During the fall harvest season, many of you head off to your favorite wine region to soak up the scenery -- and a few glasses of wine. Maybe you're devoting a week to exploring Napa Valley's wine trail, stopping off at a few local wineries during a long weekend or practicing your rusty French as you meander past Bordeaux vineyards and chateaus.
Whatever the case, if you're like some of us here at Wine Spectator, you might run into a little problem during your travels. As you gaze out over the scenic vineyards, tasting yet another stunning Cabernet, you might be inspired to purchase more than the one or two bottles you set as your limit.
It seems like a great idea at the time, especially if you're not likely to find the wines at your local wine shop. But when you get to the airport, you may find yourself pondering a troublesome question: How to fit that case of Chateau Souvenir in the overhead compartment?
Whether you're driving cross-country, or crammed into an airline seat for six hours, here's how to avoid subjecting your newfound treasures to a torturous trip home:
If you're traveling by car, at least it's easy enough to take your wine home with you (as long as you didn't start out your trip with an overstuffed car). But fall's changeable weather -- from breezy and cool to steamy -- makes for a perilous journey. Be sure to take adequate precautions to keep your bottles cool, especially if you're stopping to sightsee along the way.
If you only have a few bottles, a cooler with ice or a few cold-packs is a good solution. Cases of wine are a little trickier. Keep them on the back seat and make sure air circulates throughout the car. You might try packing Styrofoam or other insulating material around the wine to try to keep the bottles cool. (One reader wrote in to suggest draping a white cloth over the box to reflect the sunlight. One of those windshield reflectors popular in hot climates might work as well.) As long as the wine doesn't heat up to over 70 degrees F, it will be fine. A final rule: Absolutely no wine in the trunk!
For more frequently asked questions on this subject:
If you're planning on buying cases, you might want to ship them home instead of lugging them around yourself. The winery should be happy to handle this for you -- as long as it's legal. Shipping wine across state lines directly to your home is prohibited in many states. Other states put strict limits on how much you can bring back. And yet others will let you bring in the wine, as long you accompany it personally, or obtain a permit first, or fill out complicated tax forms in advance, or -- well, you get the idea. They don't make it easy.
You'll have better luck if you're visiting a home-state winery. Thirty states -- including the major wine regions of California, Washington, Oregon and New York -- allow shipments within them. We'll give you the whole list, even though many states on it aren't exactly significant wine producers, for those of you who want to know if retailers or local wine clubs can send cases to you too.
Reminder: In many cases, you must be home to receive your shipment. To prevent delivery to minors, many state laws require that packages of alcoholic beverages must be clearly marked and that the delivery company must check identification to verify that the recipient is over the age of 21.
To learn more about the issue of direct shipping, read our feature package Wine Wars.
For more frequently asked questions on air shipping:
After a long flight, the only thing you want is to get home as quickly as possible. Just one thing stands in your way: Customs. Do you declare everything, or do you bury that expensive first-growth Bordeaux in your suitcase full of dirty laundry? (By the way, they know that trick.)
You can bring in 1 liter of wine (or other alcoholic beverage) exempt from duty. For any quantity above that, you must fill out a written declaration, and you will be taxed. After figuring out any exemptions, a flat 10 percent rate of duty will be applied to the next $1,000 worth of merchandise you bring in. (For further details about duty rates in specific circumstances, check the U.S. Customs Web site.)
Many travelers buy wine or liquor in "duty-free" shops but are confused about the meaning of the term. Articles sold in duty-free shops are free of duty and taxes only in the country in which that shop is located. So the 4 liters of wine you purchased in that foreign airport shop are still subject to U.S. Customs duty and restrictions.
Even though U.S. Customs allows you to bring wine for personal consumption into the country, your state laws still take precedence. So if your state only allows you to import or bring in 1 liter of wine a month, you're stuck with that. (Check here for interstate shipping laws.) Fortunately, many of the states that ban interstate shipments of alcohol do make exemptions for visits to foreign countries.
For more about Customs regulations, read: