No matter how you get to Napa Valley, and how much you enjoy your stay, it will eventually be time to go home. However, what about all that wine you purchased during your Napa Valley wine tour? Whether you drive, fly, or take a bus or train to Napa, there are several options to get your wines home safely and securely. But it pays to plan ahead, so that you aren’t stuck paying higher prices or having to leave your expensive wines somewhere you aren’t too sure about at the last minute when it’s time to head home. Here’s what you need to know.
Protect Your Wine the Day of Purchase
When you embark on your wine tour, you need to plan to make a few purchases. Since you’ll be in and out of the car or limo all day, you need to protect the wines you buy from both breakage and extreme temperatures while you’re out and about touring wineries and vineyards. Even though Napa is quite mild even in the summertime, on a sunny 70-degree day, temperatures inside a closed vehicle can easily reach over 100 degrees in less than half an hour. Plus, part of the beauty of the landscape is due to all those rolling hills. If you’re driving across rolling hills, wine bottles left loose in the trunk or backseat will do some rolling of their own.
Ideally, bring a cooler for tours during the hot summer. In milder temperatures, at least bring a box designed for wine transport, or some cloth wine totes or reusable grocery bags. These will help you secure and protect the bottles to prevent breakage. Many of the limo wine tour companies already have means to secure and protect your wines, so ask your tour agency or guide.
Choose Your Preferred Shipping Option
As with most things, the more you do yourself, the less expensive the option. For example, you can leave all your wine at the winery, but that’s usually the priciest choice. Or, you can collect all your wines, keep them safe during transport, pack them up, and carry them with you on the plane, car, or train. That’s the cheapest way, but also the most trouble. Here are your options:
1. Have the winery ship it home for you.
This is usually an option, but not always. Most of the larger, more mainstream wineries have the necessary permits to ship wines to most states. But you’ll need to check with that winery to make sure they have the permit to ship to your state. In some cases, the state will allow you to ship your personal property (wine you own and are sending to yourself), but will not allow wineries to ship their wares, due to interstate trade laws. Some of the smaller wineries might not be able to afford all the permits for all the states, because those permits aren’t cheap. So always have a backup plan for this option. If you’re visiting mostly larger, established wineries and you live in California, there shouldn’t be a problem having wineries ship your purchases for you.
2. Take all your wines to a shipping agency before leaving for home.
Alternately, you can take precautions to protect your wine on the day(s) of your limo wine tour, and then take all of your purchases to a shipping center before you leave for home. There are numerous shipping agencies in Sonoma and Napa Valley that offer this service, including Buffalo Shipping Post, Stagecoach, All American Mail Center, Cartons & Crates, and others. They also carry the packing materials you need to properly box and protect wine bottles. Boxes typically come in 6- and 12-bottle sizes. Don’t skimp on the padding! Wine skins are available that are essentially wine-bottle-shaped bubble wrap. Add an extra thick layer of padding along the bottom of the box to protect against drops and bumps. If you are shipping fewer bottles than the box holds, consider stuffing the extra spaces with additional padding or something else to keep the bottles in place during a bumpy ride. The boxes are designed to use the bottles inside as support, so gaps in there mean the box isn’t as strong as it is when it’s completely filled with wine. Alternately, you can buy bottles in sets of 6 or in cases, so you always assure your boxes are filled. Many of the shipping shops will help you box up the wine for shipment. After all, that’s a huge part of their business! But don’t go on a weekend during harvest season and expect them to drop everything and help you. If you expect to need help, go at their slowest time of day.
3. Ask your hotel to ship your wines home for you.
Instead of taking the time to visit a shipping agency, you might just leave all your wines with your hotel and let them box and ship it back home for you. This might be one of the pricier options, but it’s definitely one of the most convenient, especially if you have an early flight to catch the day you leave. In some cases, you can have the wineries deliver your purchases to your hotel, and then have the hotel ship it to you. Just be aware that every extra step you add to the process carries a potential delay or snag. Try to keep things as simple as possible for both you and the staff helping you with your shipments.
4. Pack the wines and check the boxes at the airport.
You can’t carry your wine with you in your carryon bags (shucks!), but you can box it up and check it with your bags. If you’re only carrying a few bottles (that fit nicely in your suitcase), you may not even have to pay an extra baggage fee. Just be sure to wrap it very well, including waterproof bags to protect your clothing in case the bottles break, and wine skin bubble wrap to protect the bottles. Pack the bottles in tight, in the very middle of your bags, so that they’re surrounded with as much of your clothing and other items as possible for cushioning. Just beware of the option to check your wine as extra baggage if you’re flying through any exceptionally hot regions, such as Phoenix or Dallas, during the summertime. It’s always possible that airline baggage attendants will leave your luggage out in the hot sun for awhile during loading or unloading — potentially damaging your fragile wine purchases.