After a few days of wine-tasting your way through Sonoma County and buying the vintages you love, the next step is figuring out how to get these precious bottles home.
Zinfandel from Sonoma Valley, Sauvignon Blanc from Carneros, Pinot Noir or Chardonnay from Russian River Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley, Pinot Grigio from Dry Creek Valley, Merlot from Sonoma Mountain — each of these can represent fond tasting memories as well as the promise of savoring and enjoying them in the future.
But first, you need to transport them undamaged, and with the least amount of effort and fuss. Follow these tips, and your wine will make it home safe and sound.
If you’re driving, guard against extreme temperature changes. Wine can be a bit like Goldilocks — this temperature is too hot; this one is too cold. Make sure your wine stays “just right” by keeping bottles away from direct sunlight. Insulate them by wrapping them in clothing.
Travel with an insulated cooler and store them in there. Make sure the cooler is out of direct sunlight as you drive along. That will help keep the temperature constant.
On planes, you can’t take wine with you in carry-on luggage. However, wine flies free on Alaska Air/Horizon Air from Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport (STS) (2290 Airport Blvd., Santa Rosa, 707-565-7243). There are direct daily flights to and from Los Angeles, Orange County, Portland (Oregon), San Diego, and Seattle. One carrier-approved packed case will fly home free (but be sure to follow the packing tips listed below).
Or, wine can be packed in your checked luggage. (International travelers should be aware of possible customs duty taxes that may apply when bringing, or importing, alcoholic beverages on flights.)
The best way to pack a bottle to be transported in your luggage is to use Wine Skins. Most winery gift shops sell them. The bubble-wrap lined bag fits snuggly over the bottle. It has a strong seal that ensures the wine won’t leak out on your clothing if the bottle does break.
If you don’t have a Wine Skin (or Skins, plural), pack the bottle in a waterproof bag. Then, wrap the bag with clothing or bubble wrap. If you have more than one bottle, make sure there’s cushioning in between each one.
When using either of these methods, make sure to pack the bottles in the center of your luggage and cushion them with clothing. The bottoms and sides of your baggage may get banged around during handling.
If you’re a frequent flier to Wine Country, consider investing in the collapsible and reusable container known as the Wine Check. Pack up to a case of wine in the bag and check it as luggage, paying only the luggage fee. It even has rollers, so you don’t have to carry your case of wine. A fully loaded bag is under the airline’s 50-pound limit. It’s FAA approved and it ensures your wine arrives safely.
You can also buy shipping boxes designed to hold six or 12 wine bottles; the best ones have Styrofoam inserts that mold to the shape of bottles. These are sold at shipping-supply stores and from most wineries, and can be checked as luggage. Assuming you aren’t paying high checked-luggage fees, this is the most economical way to carry more than two or three bottles of wine home with you.
Fly With Wine sells the VinGarde Valise. This wine luggage is designed exclusively for safely transporting wine, with a 100% polycarbonate shell and is guaranteed to keep wine safe during travel. Their products conform to all applicable TSA, FAA, and airline luggage standards. In most cases, fully loaded with wine, it still weighs less than 50 lbs. See: www.flywithwine.com
Shipping is available in a variety of ways, if you don't want to bring your newly acquired wine along with you as you travel. But first, check whether your home state permits wine shipments: a few don't.
As long as shipping to your home or business is allowed, you can make arrangements at each winery where you buy wine. If you prefer to handle the details yourself or if you're buying from several wineries and want to send only one shipment, there are many local and national shipping businesses available throughout Sonoma County.
Wine Country Shipping (7686 Bell Road, Windsor, 707-836-7748) can ship ground, air two-day, air overnight, and international. Pick-up service is available for guests staying in hotels in the Healdsburg and Santa Rosa areas. Cost varies according to how many bottles you ship and how far; call for specific pricing.
Bodega Shipping Company (750 W. Napa St., Sonoma, 707-343-1656) specializes in wine shipping from Sonoma Valley, and offers free pickups from any address in the city of Sonoma. To get shipping cost estimates, use the company's online shipping form.
Crown Wine Shipping (459 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-473-0644) primarily uses UPS for national and international deliveries; for summer wine shipments it uses the UPS Summer Solutions cold train program. Typical shipping options include next day air, second day air, three day select, and ground shipping.
Sonoma Shipping Center (385 Aviation Blvd., Suite C, Santa Rosa, 707-527-0302) is dedicated to making shipping more enjoyable. Specializing in wine shipping; the Styrofoam wine shippers are sure to keep your wine safe during transportation, and great rates when shipping wine.
Taking the right steps to get your wine bottles home safely will pay off when you sip and savor your Sonoma County vintages, bringing back memories of each winery visited.