Polar vortexes, 100-year floods, Cat 5 hurricanes, wild brushfires, high-intensity tornadoes, extended heat spikes. As these weather events become more common, shipping wine becomes riskier.
Conventional wisdom said wine shipping occurred only in the spring or fall. But given the unpredictable weather we are experiencing as climate change accelerates, this idea no longer holds. We need to approach shipping wine with a new mindset.
How Extreme Temperatures Impact Shipping Wine
Wine is a perishable product. When subjected to extreme temperatures, your wine purchases may not arrive in the condition you expect.
For years, wine shipping in the heat of the summer has been discouraged. If the internal bottle temperature rises above 80°F, wine can begin to deteriorate. Nearing 86°F and above, wine starts to cook, and the pressure will begin pushing the cork out.
Wine and air begin to seep through the cork, leading to oxidation of the wine. The taste will not be fresh but subdued with cooked flavor characteristics.
You may not realize that extreme cold temperatures impact wine too. Due to its alcohol content, wine freezes at a lower temperature than water, around 20 - 22°F. Freezing can damage the wine, the cork, and the bottle. Wine not adequately protected during shipping can suffer significantly when external temperatures approach 5°F.
When water freezes, it expands as anyone who has left a bottle in the freezer knows. The same thing happens to wine. The liquid expands, and the pressure either pushes the cork out or breaks the bottle. When the cork pushes out, wine can leak out and air can leak in, enabling oxidation.
Unlike red wine, during white wine production, winemakers intentionally initiate cold stabilization as a way to remove tartrates that can develop when the wine is chilled. They bring the temperature down to around 32°F to remove the tartaric acid ahead of time. Although the tartrates are harmless, most consumers prefer not to have ‘floaties’ in their wine.
Options for Avoiding Temperature Issues During Extreme Weather
To avoid risking your wine, you don’t want the internal temperature of the wine inside the container to fall below freezing or reach 80 degrees or above for any length of time while in transit.
Here are some considerations about wine shipping to avoid extreme-weather issues:
- The temperature of your wine at the source versus the delivery location.
- The type of packaging used: styrofoam, though not environmentally friendly, insulates pretty well.
- Find out if heated or cooled climate-controlled warehousing and transport are available.
- Determine if your wine ships by ground or air. Air is more expensive but faster, so the wine spends less time in the extreme temperature.
- Find out if your wine will sit in a warehouse before shipment and where the warehouse is located.
- Will your wine have to spend the night in another hot or cold warehouse or truck while in transit?
- Send your wine to a location, such as a business, reducing the time the wine will be subject to the weather.
- Buy full cases instead of smaller packs. Two to six-bottle shippers, even with styrofoam, will suffer more of an impact than a 12-bottle case.
- Hold your wine at the source until temperatures drop or rise.
- Ask your wine shipper to ship at the beginning of the week, preferably on a Monday or Tuesday so the wine does not sit over a weekend.
- Don’t purchase wine during extreme weather. Wait for more favorable conditions.
Know that couriers, such as Fedex and UPS, and retailers do not offer insurance to protect the wine against extreme temperatures.
Your local grocery store or wine shop, and other wine retailers, receive deliveries year-round. Before buying wine during months with extreme weather from a local retailer, ask when it was delivered and under what conditions.
Some local distributors and retailers might not have climate-controlled warehouses or refrigerated trucks. Imported wines tend to be shipped in climate-controlled containers. However, not always because these containers are expensive.
Wine shipping and distribution go on every day all across the country, so buyers beware.
And don’t leave your wine in a car outside in extreme cold or heat. It will perish quickly.
With Changing Climate, Wine Shipping is Changing Too
If your wine makes it across the ocean or the country, it can still be damaged on the way to your house.While the entire door-to-door process is critical, the riskiest times are during the staging and trucking phases, when the wine is more exposed to the elements.
Major transportation companies closely monitor weather forecasts, using them for optimal delivery times. Sophisticated tools allow for ongoing evaluation.
These companies offer various delivery options:
- next day air
- shipping to a business address
- holding wine at a store for pick-up
- holding it for future delivery
- adding ice packs to keep wine cool during transit
- using styrofoam shippers for better insulation year-round
Each of these has benefits and drawbacks, so determine which works best for your situation.
Every winery, big-box retailer, or online retailer should have ashipping policy that considers temperatures and weather events.
With regard to ice packs, note that most ice packs will melt within 48 hours. So, if you’re shipping across country in the heat and transit time is more than 3 days, the addition of ice packs may not protect your wine during the entire journey.
Some wineries only ship twice a year. While this may seem ridiculous in our instant gratification culture, you need to understand it and plan accordingly.
Find out which weekday wines are shipped, if there will be in-transit stops or delays, and if the wine will sit in a warehouse or on a truck open to the elements for any length of time.
If a company doesn’t have a policy or the policy states that they are not responsible for weather-damaged wine, reconsider buying from them.
Changing climate means changing wine purchasing habits. It will be increasingly challenging ordering wine on demand and serving it at tomorrow night’s dinner party.
If you want wine delivered for Valentine’s Day or a Labor Day picnic, plan your purchases ahead of time so weather events won’t delay your enjoyment.
What Else Wine Lovers Need to Know about Shipping Wine
Wine producers want their wine to make it to your door in optimal condition, but they are not in control of the entire transportation chain.
Educate yourself about weather risks. Only buy from responsible parties who will ensure quality and service from a winery to your door or local retailer. Check out the policies of wine clubs and online wine retailers as well.
At the end of the day, you are ultimately responsible for safe delivery of your wine. When you purchase wine online, legal ownership (title) transfers to you based on when and where you purchase it.
Wine and alcohol are treated differently than other products, because of state and federal regulations. This is why you need to be aware of all shipping policies and implications.
Shipping methods and conditions are essential factors that impact the quality of wine served in your home.
In the future, shipping policies may become linked to discussions about wine labeling. New technology may become available that will share this information with retailers, and perhaps consumers.
But if you don’t want to risk spoiling your expensive Burgundy or your top-flight Bordeaux, buy and ship only during optimal times, when the weather is not an issue.
If you intend to cellar quality wine, shipping is considerably more critical. Don’t gamble on buying expensive wine to hold for ten or 15 years.
The wine might have a shorter shelf-life than expected. How sad would it be upon opening a special bottle if the cork had pushed out when you first bought the wine?
Big Hammer Wines Knows the Ins and Outs of Wine Shipping
At Big Hammer Wines, we take great care with our wines from source to endpoint. With our years of experience in all aspects of the business, we know the risks and ask the right questions. Every wine we sell has been properly transported and stored, so it arrives ready to drink or hold for a special occasion.
If you care about maintaining the integrity of the wine you purchase, work with an expert like Big Hammer Wines.