Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
Wine enthusiasts understand the need for proper storage conditions to prevent accelerated aging or cooked wines. Given this fact, to what extent are our investments affected by shipping conditions, especially wines imported from as far away as Australia? What measures do importers take to protect the wine from temperature changes? Your comments are much appreciated. Thank you.
—Sai C., Forest Hills, N.Y.
I checked with an importer I trust, Brian Larky, who owns a Napa-based Italian import company called Dalla Terra, and this is what he said:
"The conditions that wines are shipped in are controlled by the importer ... the bottom line is that some importers choose to pay for refrigerated containers, others do not. We always do.
"The container temperature is selected by the importer, so 55 degrees [F] is realistic. These containers have big chillers mounted on them with independently running coolant engines that can go for up to 60 days unattended.
"To confirm that the correct temperature has been maintained, a paper tape is run and delivered to us upon landing. This tape tracks the temperature so you can see what the temperature was at any given time and if indeed it stayed set at the requested temperature.
"Humidity is not controlled, but usually isn't a problem, as there seems to be plenty of humidity near the ocean. When they hit land, the containers clear customs and often remain sealed until they arrive at the importer's warehouse facility—going straight into another [temperature-]controlled environment."
Brian emphasized that the onus is on the importer, not the producer, to make sure the wine is shipped in temperature-controlled containers. He says that the added cost of these containers to an importer is about $1 per case of wine.
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