How to Travel with Wine

May 24, 2019

Whether you've just sipped your way through every cellar in Bordeaux—or received a bottle of something lovely from the hotel you stayed in nowhere near wine country—getting the goods home isn't always so simple. Yes, plenty of wine purveyors have all the packing materials you need to ensure that yours isn't the suitcase on the conveyor belt that's curiously splotchy and pungent. But on the other hand, plenty don't have the necessary supplies—and that's where this story comes in: We've spoken to top pros about how to make sure your liquid souvenirs have a safe journey home.

First, we hope this part goes without saying, but just in case: Do not accidentally leave wine in your carry-on. You'd be ensuring immediate confiscation, no matter how many times you proclaim this sacred Montepulciano to be the only thing mom and dad ever wanted for their golden anniversary.

As for how to get it right, Willi Sherer, Master Sommelier at Acacia House by Chris Cosentino in St. Helena, CA, suggests you first try to tack down some WineSkin wine shields—bottle-shaped transport bags that serve “as a good first layer.” Maria Stuart, a partner at the R. Stuart & Co. Winery in McMinnville, Oregon is fond of a similar product: padded JetBags. “They’re re-usable, always a bonus in my book, and if something should happen, they soak up the liquid,” she says. Failing either of those options, though, a plastic laundry bag from your hotel room (or any plastic bag with a bit of thickness) isn't a bad first layer.

Next up: a layer of cushioning, in the form of your longest socks. Place the base of a bottle into one, then slip the other over the neck (the bottle’s most delicate, likely-to-break feature). Now wrap the entire sock-shrouded bottle in anything from a tee to flannel pajama pants, and place the wine in the center of the suitcase, with clothing as padding all around. Then create a perimeter of shoes. As Raymond Gamez, logistics manager at Fess Parker Winery and Vineyard in Los Olivos, California, explains: “People often think you need soft packing materials for bottles—and you do—but the most important factor is keeping a strong outer layer so the wine isn’t bumped directly during transit,” he says. Thus the shoes lining the periphery. And a layer of magazines on top (go ahead, steal those destination guides from your hotel room) helps hold everything in place.

If you're nervous about traveling with wine even despite all the above precautions (and yeah, we get it, we've done the broken bottle walk of shame out of Baggage Claim), skip the strategically packed suitcase in favor of a box designed exclusively for wine shipping. “These boxes can also be used to check a case, or a smaller amount, on an airplane," says Stuart. "The airline will always tell you that they can't be responsible for the bottles inside, but if the box is correctly packed, you shouldn't have a problem. I never have." Sherer's preferred method of packing those boxes? These molded pulp bottle shippers. 

Enlisting the logistical talents of a wine-shipping company is of course, the surest, albeit most expensive, way to get wine safely across the globe. At Las Alcobas Napa Valley, for instance, a shipping whiz will come to the hotel and pack your loot on site. “They store your wine in a temperature-controlled room prior to shipping, and you can even ship via temperature-controlled methods,” Sherer explains. “After you fill out the shipping form, the rest is done for you. You did all the work finding the great wines, let the hard part stop there.”

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