Shipping Homemade Wine

Lots of people ship their own wine via carriers like DHL, FedEx, and UPS. The national and international home winemaking competitions couldn’t exist without all the entries that were shipped. But its something that’s always had me confused and a little nervous. Part of the confusion is that I’ve heard so many different accounts of people trying to ship homemade wine. Some just package it up, drop it off, and it gets delivered. Others report some pointed questioning about the contents of their packages. Here’s a story that stuck in my head:

And you thought fish stories were strange

Someone entering a competition, packaged up his entry in a box that was clearly marked as containing wine. It might have been that he bought a case of wine and reused the box; I’m not sure about the details. At any rate, he was shipping it to a homebrew shop or winery with “wine” in the name. These two things caught the attention of the shipping clerk, who asked if he was shipping alcohol. The man lied and said he had bought marinade from the gift shop and was returning it. The clerk asked a few more times, in a few more ways, if he was shipping alcohol, but the man stuck to his story. The clerk accepted the package, and the man left, but he got a call that evening from the clerk. It turns out that the clerk called up the place and asked them if they sold marinades, they said no, and he wasn’t going to ship it.

On the other hand, one person reported calling up a shipping company and asking what they should do to ship homemade wine. He was told to open an account, package it up, and request an adult signature. The most common thing I hear, though, is people labeling their packages as “grape juice” or “vinegar.”

What does UPS say?

I decided to have a look at the UPS web site to see if I could find anything definitive and came accross something called the “UPS Tariff/Terms and conditions of service for small package shipments in the United States.” It wasn’t easy to find. There were all sorts of links to create shipping paperwork online, create an account, track a package, read about freight and international service, but nothing about terms and conditions. Then I looked at the site map, and at the very bottom of the page, I found the link.

A 48 page maybe

So what does it say about shipping alcohol? To find out, I searched for “alcohol” in the 48 page document and found “Section H: Alcoholic Beverages,” which comes right after the section on things prohibited by law and just before the sections on biological materials and firearms. In case you were wondering, biological materials are ok, as long as they are “prepared in accordance with all aspects of 49 C.F.R. § 173.199.” Firearms are ok too, “from and between persons not otherwise prohibited from shipping firearms by federal, state or local law.” Homemade wine might be ok, but homemade beer is not. After droning on about shippers that are licensed and authorized to ship alcoholic beverages, the document states flatly, “UPS does not accept packages containing beer or spirits for delivery to a consumer.” Beer or spirits? Does that mean wine is ok?

An experiment

The truth is that the 48 pages of legalese isn’t clear cut, so a commenter to my blog (best not to name him, I think) and I are going to experiment. He’s sending me some of his wine, and when (if?) it gets here, I’ll send him some of mine. I’ve picked out the wine that I’m going to send him, and I’m nervous and excited at the same time. Hopefully this story will have a happy ending. I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your experience or insight into shipping wine. Just leave a comment at the end of this post.

Update 5/1/2008: Almost there!

I received the two bottles of wine and shipped out two bottles of mead. The wine made it here in great shape; let’s see how things go with the mead.

Update 5/18/2008: Success!

The two meads I shipped arrived safe and sound.



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5 thoughts on “Shipping Homemade Wine

  1. Jack Keller

    Erroll, some UPS clerks will process wine and some won’t. It makes no sense. When you’re trying to beat a deadline for a competition, you don’t want to be told “No way” because coming back to the same clerk the next day with a box of “marinades” or “fruit syrups” probably won’t work.

    So, when it comes to competitions, I don’t ship wine. I have, however, never had a problem with UPS when shipping “live yeast culture” or “vinegar base.”

  2. T. Sparks

    We made a variety box of 12 different homemade wines for our adult children for Christmas. We didn’t realize it would be a problem sending it to them. One lives in California and the other in Colorado. Do you have any suggests on how to ship the box of 12 bottles?
    Thanks!
    ts

  3. Erroll Post author

    Hi TS,

    To my (layman’s) eyes, shipping homemade wine does not violate UPS’s terms – a literal reading seems to say that they don’t accept beer or spirits, but that wine is ok. That doesn’t make a lot of sense, and I doubt they were even thinking about homemade wine at all when they wrote up their terms. So if I were shipping wine, I would make sure I was complying with the law (which is probably different in each state you want to ship to) and assume it was ok with the shipper (except the Post Office – my understanding is that you can’t ship any sort of alcohol with them).

    Erroll

  4. Shireen

    Has anyone ever shipped overseas? I would love to send my raspberry ‘live yeast culture’ to the UK as a Christmas present.

  5. Erroll Post author

    Hi Shireen,

    I haven’t shipped overseas – shipping within the US is complicated enough! If you find out anything, I hope you’ll come back and let us all know.

    Erroll

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