The Shipping Puzzle

WR SHIPPING.001A dispatch from Emilie Giraud on how to dispatch your wine

For all the foreign Malbec fans out there, coming to Mendoza is a little bit like going to a gigantic candy store, trying delicious sweets and being allowed to bring only the memory of it all back home.

Whether you are the backpacking type or the fancy suitcase wheeler, you’ll be wondering the exact same thing – is there any way I can squeeze this extra bottle into my bag and bring it back at a decent price?

Foreign tourists make up 70% of winery visits here, and the winery store is the only place where the winery can sell their product at the full retail price.

So you can imagine their sales staff have thought over and over again of all the possible ways they can get you to buy more. These days wineries are much more focused on sales than they were in the early days of wine tourism when to sell a bottle at the end of a tour was like a pleasant after -thought.  However no matter how much they now push to buy, they keep hitting a giant wall called shipping.  A box of six to the US costs on average $200 US per box, not including the wine. Such high costs puts a spike in the spokes of all but the highest rollers.

Here I have tried to decipher for you the complex world of getting wines home so you may avoid the bitter after taste of frustration.

  1. The Carry-On Solution

The Wine Crock

If you want to bring back 1 or 2 bottles and are one of those lucky people who do not overpack their luggage, the wine crock is the solution.

This bubble-wrap bottle holder should survive even the most brutish airport bag handler. If the bottle does break, at least your clothes will be saved and you can always try to drink the precious liquid with the traditional mate straw you’ve just bought.

Wineries sell them to for 30 pesos and if handled correctly you can re-use them.

You can also take advantage of the fact that Argentina is one of the very few countries which allows you to bring your wrapped bottled as hand luggage on a domestic flight.

The 6 or 12-bottle Styrofoam box

If you are a determined Malbec fanatic and are ready to carry on as much weight as it takes to extend your wine collection, you might be interested in buying styrofoam cases of 6 or even 12.

Selling at about 120 pesos (6 bottles) and 240 pesos (12 bottles), the box is basically a block of styrofoam with hollowed out cavities for bottles. Taped up well, it is practically impregnable.

You’ll have to check the boxes in and maybe pay extra-luggage fee. Count that a styrofoam box of 6 bottles weighs on average 9kg and a Styrofoam box with 12 bottles 18kg. It costs around 100 USD of extra-weight (Lan, and American Airlines) or 150 USD for an extra-bag. Also all the airlines insist the box is shrink wrapped before checking in.

Be careful though, many countries suffer restrictions in terms of the amounts of bottles you can bring back with you , and those norms are changing all the time. You shouldn’t have much problem in the USA and the UK, but if you live in Australia or Canada, you’ll be allowed only two bottles..

The Duty-Free Shop Solution

Be careful, not so many wines are available in the duty-free shops, especially not from that little boutique winery you got a crush on. Keep as a last-minute emergency option for forgotten gifts.

Make sure they put your bottle in a sealed plastic bag, especially if you have connecting flights

2 : The Shipping Solution

 If you don’t wan’t to carry your wine with you, some wineries, hotels and specialized companies offer to ship your bottles for you. Shipping is appealing but don’t get too excited. People’s jaws drop when they see the prices and it’s certainly not an option for every budget.

 To get an idea on prices, to ship 6 bottles of wine to the US costs between 190 and 225 USD, (duties paid) and to ship 12 bottles, between 240 and 300 USD. To Brasil : between 250 and 325 USD depending the region for 6 bottles, and 310 and 420 USD for 12 bottles all duties paid. To the UK and to Canada, around 105 USD, for 6 bottles and 150 for 12 bottles, duties not paid. To Australia 120 USD for 6 bottles and 180 USD for 12, duties not paid.

 The duties can be very high, especially in Canada and in Australia. In British Colombia, Ontario and Quebec, the taxes are literally prohibitive. The easiest state to ship to in Canada is Alberta.

Many wineries and hotels work with intermediary shipping agents, like TAKSA, who offer to come and pick the wine at the winery and take care of all the paper work. They move bigger volumes and as such, can negotiate better prices with the different couriers.

 Where there is a will, there is a way

 Shipping to the USA to a private client is actually forbidden if you are not a wine importer. Yet the majority of Mendoza wine tourists are doing exactly that. What is going on?

 Some couriers reach some places, and some other couriers reach other places, depending where they have brokers to receive the package and specialist agreements ironed out on a state by state basis.

These importers let them use their licence and clear the wine for a very nice cheque.

Basically the price is calculated as TRANSPORT + GAS +  90 DOLARES (importer’s licence + duties).

 Why so high ? 

Clients and wineries do complain about such exorbant prices. Just why is carting a box home so expensive ? It is a pandora’s box of national and international regulations made more complex by the fact that we are dealing with sinful alcohol that puts lawmakers and tax collectors in a frenzy.  The reasons can be summed up by the following points.

 The Drunken Postman

The domestic postal service has a bad enough reputation as it is without putting the whiff of wine under their noses. They may celebrate local wine in their postage stamps but but try send a bottle internationally and you’ll get wrapped up in customs forms and bureaucratic lethargy. End result, you wine box will never be seen again

 Greenbacks Only

The four big multinational courier companies (UPS/TNT/FEDEX/UPS) price everything in American dollars and it is the same everywhere in the world. In other words, the cost has nothing to do with the national cost of living or transport, and you can’t take advantage of the blue dollar exchange rate. The air freight service promises you get your wine within a week of dispatching but aviation fuel is expensive and the sector is not very competitive so the courier companies margins are quite high.

 The Right Frequency

 The frequency of flights is more important than the distance. The prices are divided by zone. The zone correspond more or less to the distance, but more than anything else to the frequency. For example, to ship to Denmark for instance is more expensive than to Germany, because the flight connections are way less regular there.   

 The Law is an Ass

 Believe it or not shipping to Brazil, a fellow MERCOSUR member, costs nearly twice the price than shipping to Europe. Individual countries’ laws on alcoholic beverages are a quagmire of over reactionary puritanical zeal that seem somewhat outdated in the 21st Century. Traditionally taxes on anything alcoholic are quite high and the controls very strict.

In Australia, Canada and the Nordic European States, the alcohol laws are somewhat drastic for public health reasons. Canada, Norway and Sweden have state controlled stores with very strict rules. For example you cannot buy alcohol at certain times and the taxes are very high for the exact same reason.

In other countries like Brazil, the reasons are protectionist and a policy of supporting the growth of the national winemaking industry. It also has a lot to do with bilateral economic rivalrly – you don’t let in my product, I don’t let in yours.

 Add to this the fact that many countries will only allow registered importers to send wine home (notably the USA and Canada) and you have a hangover before you have even drank the stuff.