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How to ship wine safely and legally

Stacks of brown-hued wine bottles

Let’s start with the basics. Is it legal for you to ship wine? That depends. On myriad factors, actually. Most importantly: Do you have a license to ship wine? If not, you’ve hit your first obstacle. Unfortunately, it’s against the law for an unlicensed person to ship a bottle of wine to a friend -- or anyone else for that matter. And, if you are licensed to ship wine, you have to have a special contract with UPS for shipping wine.

Wineries, which typically are licensed to ship wine, face their own set of challenges. Some states allow only on-site visitors to a winery to ship wine. Other states allow you to order wine online, depending on the seller and depending on where you live. And then there’s the packing and the weather. Perhaps you’ve packed up your bottles so well they could withstand a natural disaster with nary a scrape. You’re all set – or so you think.

Until your pricey bottles of Bordeaux get stuck in a triple-digit Texas heat wave. Ouch. Fortunately, there are strategies to tackle everything from confusing regulations to unpredictable weather.

Follow these 10 simple steps to ship wine with fewer headaches.

1. Understand the regulations

Deciphering the rules and regulations surrounding shipping wine is likely the most complicated aspect. Beyond being licensed to ship wine and having a special shipping contract, you’ll also need to consider the varied landscape of municipal, state and country regulations as well.

Restrictions vary depending on who you are, what you’re shipping, how much you are shipping and where your recipient is located. For example, permissible wine shipments fall into five separate categories. Fortunately, resources like ShipCompliant can help the wine beverage industry make sense of it all.

2. Determine where you can ship wine.

Where you can ship depends on the nature of your shipper’s license, along with the laws of the destination. As you may have guessed, rules for shipping wine domestically vary significantly from state to state.

This UPS chart breaks it down by both state and category, while the Wine Institute has maps, charts and state-by-state details specifically for wineries. Wine limits are included, because, yes, there are restrictions on how much wine you can ship as well.

Shipping internationally? UPS now ships wine to 36 countries, most within three days. Keep track of trade regulations with UPS TradeAbility® service, and streamline customs clearance using UPS Paperless® Invoice, an electronic commercial invoice that transmit package information to Customs officials before your package ever arrives at the border.

For complete shipping options and country-by-country regulation info, consult ups.com/wine.

3. Select an appropriately sized corrugated shipping container.

Now that you’ve wrapped your head around the who, what, where and how much of shipping wine, it’s time to pack it up. Start with a new sturdy corrugated box that can handle heavy weight.

Size is important here. Choose a box that’s just large enough for your bottles and inserts to fit snugly inside. Make sure there is packaging material between the inserts and the walls of the box to eliminate empty space. But shipping costs are based on both package dimension and total weight, so you want to choose a box that allows for proper packing but not too much packing. Snug means secure.

4. Securely pack your wine with appropriate inserts.

When packing up your precious cargo, always secure it as close to the middle of the box as possible (away from the walls) to minimize movement and prevent breakage.

Approved UPS inserts include a folded corrugated tray, molded fiber tray or Expanded Polystyrene foam (EPS), not to be confused with brand-named Styrofoam, more often used in construction.

Before shipping, test your molded pulp packaging to ensure that it meets ISTA or UPS Package Design and Test Lab standards. Again, make sure all molded pulp or die-cut corrugated inserts fit snugly within your sturdy corrugated box.

5. Seal the package securely with pressure-sensitive packing tape.

Don’t skimp on the shipping tape. Wine shipments are heavy, and the last thing you want is a bottle falling through the bottom of the box if the tape doesn’t hold. Seal up the closure flaps on both the top and bottom of the box carefully to protect your shipment.

6. Apply the required wine label to the box.

UPS will supply the label, which indicates that the contents of the package are wine, and must be signed for by an adult. Additional labeling may also be required by the origin or destination state.

Beyond complicated regulations, weather is one of the biggest challenges you’ll face when shipping wine. Both extreme heat and cold can negatively affect perishable wine.

7. Watch the weather and plan accordingly.

According to Jordan Harris, winemaker and general manager for Tarara Winery in Leesburg, Va., temperatures below 25 or above 80 degrees Fahrenheit can spoil wine. Harris admits it’s easy to forget to monitor the weather in the shipment’s destination. “Just because it’s nice here,” he says, “doesn’t mean it isn’t freezing in Minnesota.”

Special packing materials can mitigate extreme temperatures.

8. Time your shipment to minimize extreme weather exposure.

When weather is a concern, ship at the beginning of the week to avoid extended exposure to excessively hot or cold temperatures over the weekend (when your package will be sitting in a sorting facility). Choose faster shipping options, preferably next business day or second day, to further minimize exposure to extreme temperatures.

9. Consider insuring your wine shipment.

Every bottle of wine represents a hefty investment of time and effort to achieve the finished product. Consider protecting your investment with UPS Capital Elite® for Vintners, which covers in-transit wine shipments for both breakage and temperature-related issues like cork push or seepage.

Choose transactional coverage for small shipments, or opt for a cargo policy that covers multiple modes and carriers in the United States or overseas.

10. Make sure an adult is available to sign for the package.

You’ll need to ship the package for Delivery Confirmation Adult Signature Required, where someone 21 or over is required to sign for a shipment of wine. Make things simple with Quantum View Notify® alerts, a complimentary service where UPS notifies the recipient when to expect the delivery via email and can update the recipient of any status changes.

Related Resources:

UPS: Shipping Wine

Wine Institute: State Shipping Laws for Wineries

ShipCompliant Resources

Three tips to consider

Consider pros and cons of packing materials

Pre-molded EPS glass bottle shippers are the most secure and maintain temperature the best, but pulp insert trays are more environmentally friendly and take up less storage space.

Hold for Pickup

Worried about an adult being available to sign for your package? Take the guesswork out of it with the UPS Hold for Pickup service. Have your recipient pick up the package from a UPS Customer Center location within five days for no additional charge.

Ship to a UPS Access Point location

If a UPS Customer Center isn’t convenient to your recipient, you may also ship wine directly to a UPS Access Point® location for pickup. As with Hold for Pickup, the 21-or-over recipient must show identification and sign for the package. NOTE: Unlike most retail goods, consumers cannot reroute a wine shipment to a UPS Access Point location once that package is in transit.

Find Out More

  • Wine and state laws

    Some states allow shipments from out-of-state wineries even when the purchase is not made on-site at the winery, while other states prohibit them.

    Learn more about shipping wine
  • Packaging solutions from UPS

    Let the UPS Package Solutions experts help you design and test your packaging.

    Learn more about package solutions
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