Category:Wine news

Wine through the mail: The do’s and don’ts of direct shipping

Your wine could be in the back of a UPS or Fed Ex truck. Doug Nalle makes some of the best zinfandel in California. There ?s just one catch. It ?s difficult to buy outside of California, what with his limited production of just 1,500 cases a year, and the restrictions of the three-tier distribution system.

So what ?s a wine buyer to do?

The answer is to order directly from the winery, an option that is gaining in popularity not only in Texas (where the Wine Curmudgeon lives), but across the country. A 2005 Supreme Court decision struck down many state laws that prohibited interstate shipment, while Texas liberalized its direct shipping laws ? for both intra- and inter-state orders ? several years ago. Texas wineries, for example, can ship to dry parts of the state.

This makes it much easier to get cult wines from California, limited-release and small winery wines from places like New York or Missouri, and even mainstream winery club offerings without leaving the house, something that was legally impossible earlier this decade.

In addition, many state laws, including Texas ?, restrict direct shipping from out-of-state and on-line retailers. Which means that anyone who orders the Nalle zinfandel from a California liquor store could be committing a crime.

Which also means, that as much of a boon as direct shipping has been to the wine industry and to consumers, there remain some caveats:

? Can the winery ship to or within your state? Does it want to? In Texas, for example, out-of-state wineries need shipping and sales tax permits to ship to consumers here (though in-state wineries don ?t). Not every small winery will go through that process just to sell a couple of cases of wine a year. Most wineries list the states they ?ll ship to on their web site or if you call. Again, if an out-of-state winery ships to you and hasn’t satisfied all of your state’s requirements, you ?re technically breaking the law.

? Understand the costs and restrictions. Shipping is expensive, and can add 40 percent to the cost of a bottle. Nalle charges $14-$18 for a three-bottle minimum, while Texas ? Haak Vineyards & Winery charges about $6 a bottle for one to three bottles. These charges are usually discounted if you buy more a case or two, but the days of free shipping are almost all gone. Also, many state laws limit the amount of wine you can receive, such as about one case every 30 days.

? Make sure someone can sign for it. This is not just about satisfying the legal requirement that someone older than 21 receives the wine; it also takes into account the weather. Shippers like UPS and FedEx aren ?t supposed to leave wine without an adult signature, which means your $200 bottle of Harlan Estate cabernet blend could be riding around in the back of a truck for a couple of days, being baked beyond recognition. If there ?s no one home during the day, consider an alternative delivery site, like the office.

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? Rose sales increase:  Which is good news for those of us who enjoy pink wine. Sales increased about 50 percent in 2007, according to a Nielsen study. Why did this happen? A couple of reasons, I think. Consumers are beginning to understand that rose is not the same as white zinfandel, and offers value for money — especially in the $10 range. Also, producers are making better wine, particularly in California.

? Wine sales in a recession? Tom Wark at the Fermentation wine blog may have found a relationship between wine sales and economic downturns. This is something wine people talk about a lot: How much of a luxury product is wine, and will consumers give it up when times get tough? Wark tracked wine club sales, and there seem to be a cancellations that are following the on-coming recession. “I have no doubt that were it being done for the past 15 years we’d see that at this moment that Index will be in a severe downward trend,” he says.

? Blog awards: And while you’re at Fermentation, take a moment to vote for Alfonso Cevola, whose On the Wine Trail in Italy has been nominated for two American Wine Blog awards. Alfonso not only knows more about Italian wine that almost anyone I know, but he is always incredibly kind and generous with his time. Especially when he is dealing with the Wine Curmudgeon, and we know how difficult that can be.

Texans aren’t all that interested in drinking wine in restaurants

One of the regular themes here is that restaurants do a lousy job of selling wine to their customers. And now the Wine Curmudgeon has hard evidence to go along with his whining.

The new Texas Zagat guide, released yesterday, notes that only about one-third of the state’s diners order a bottle of wine with their meal. Almost half, on the other hand, order wine by the glass.

I suppose one can look at this positively — that 85 percent of Texans who eat in restaurants order wine with their meal. But the Wine Curmudgeon didn’t get where he is by being positive. And, in fact, that’s looking at the numbers through rose’-colored glasses.

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? Why critter wine works: Ever wondered why so many wine labels have so many cute animals on them? So did researchers at Yale, Michigan and the University of Chicago. (Hey, the Wine Curmudgeon runs a class joint.) And they found that consumers are more likely to favor a product that they associate with themselves. Hence, according to the study, we we associate animals (the study tested cats and dogs with several products) with ourselves more than we do with more wine-oriented themes, like a chateau or a grape vine on a label.

? La Bodega wins award: Texas’ La Bodega Winery, best known as the winery in an airport — it’s in terminals A and D at DFW International — was named Best Retail Store Design for the terminal D layout in the Small Retailer Division by the trade journal Airport Revenue News.

? High alcohol wines:  The debate continues, with a leading Sacramento retailer announcing it won’t carry wines with more than 14 1/2 percent alcohol. Regular visitors know how the Wine Curmudgeon feels about high alcohol. It’s interesting to see that others who are less curmudgeonly feel the same way.

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? Wine shoppers overwhelmed: This is not really news to anyone who has actually gone wine shopping (as opposed to buying by scores and snobbery), given the 400 or so brands introduced each year. But it is interesting that one of the largest wine companies in the world has noticed. Constellation Wines, the U.S. arm of massive Constellation Brands, says almost one-quarter of wine shoppers are overwhelmed by sheer volume of choices on store shelves and like to drink wine, but don’t know what kind to buy and may select by label. Which explains why so many of those brands have cute animal labels.

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