Category Archives: Competitions and Events

Lost Series Finale

I’ve watched Lost since it premiered, and I wanted to commemorate the last episode. There are any number of ways to do that, but for me it starts with the food. And the wine.

Remember when Sawyer was held at the Hydra station? Remember the fish biscuits? I’m not sure what a fish biscuit is, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to eat one. The Lady of the House makes Tuna Burgers. Great comfort food, they’re not really burgers but they’re served hot on homemade hamburger buns. They’re easy to make, and we love them. I’ve renamed them “Fish Biscuits!”

And the wine? Here I have a dilemma. I want something I really like – my simple mead recipe turned out great (took really well to oak – is aging beautifully) and I think it would go well with the fish biscuits. I’d also like a wine with a Dharma label, and that would be my wine from supermarket grapes. Unfortunately the label is the best thing about that wine. I could relabel one bottle of the mead, and I might do that. I could “have my wine and drink it too” by opening both bottles. Probably not. Maybe we’ll open the mead, and the Dharma wine will just show up for a photo op with the fish biscuits.

So I haven’t nailed down all the details, but we’ll have good food, good mead, and watch the finale of Lost. It’ll be fun!

Shipping Homemade Wine: We did it!

Shipping homemade wine is legal in the US, except via the Post Office (yes, I know how silly that sounds), but the policies of the various shipping companies are confusing. Mind numbingly specific and frustratingly vague at the same time, they seem to add up to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. To sort this out, I teamed up with a reader and tried it out. He sent me two bottles of wine, and they arrived without a hitch. I sent back two bottles of my mead, and UPS delivered them promptly and efficiently.

I’ve heard stories of people fibbing to get a shipper to deliver their package, but I wanted to see if it could be done honestly. Our little experiment could have been a fluke, but shipping hundreds or thousands of packages, from and to many different cities, is a bit much for me to try. So I’ll go by what I can do, which is read the terms and try the experiment. Based on that, I’ll venture a tentative “yes,” you can ship homemade wine via commercial shippers (again, not the US Post Office – I don’t know why, but you can’t).

Have you shipped homemade wine (or mead or beer)? I’d love to hear about it. Just leave a comment at the end of this post.

Shipping Homemade Wine: So Far So Good

Shipping Wine

As I said in my previous post on shipping homemade wine, one of my readers and I are experimenting by shipping our wines to each other. He shipped two bottles of tomato wine, and they arrived in great shape – no breaks, no leaks. I sent back two bottles of mead. I hope they arrive intact and that he likes them as much I like his. My tomato wine isn’t far enough along yet to compare with his, in fact the last time I checked it was pretty harsh.

Don’t ask, don’t tell?

Both of us had a similar experience when we shipped our wines. We packaged up the wine at home and presented the sealed box to a shipping clerk, who never asked what we were shipping. I made up my mind before hand that I wouldn’t lie, and if asked, I was ready to tell him that I was shipping some of my homemade wine to a friend. He was only interested in two things, however, my credit card and whether or not the value exceeded $100.

I did have to fill out and sign a “shipping order” form, which had a space for me to list the contents of the package and some other details. The clerk handed it to me and said he just needed my name, phone number, and signature. Its possible that a different clerk would have required an accounting of the package contents, but our experience is that they don’t care what’s in a plain, ordinary package.

I expect the package to arrive in about a week, and I’ll post an update when I hear about it.

Update 5/18/2008: Success!

The two meads I shipped arrived safe and sound.

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.

Superbowl Wine?

Football Wine

Red wine and pizza!

Ok, it’s not often you go to a football game and hear one of the vendors bellowing, “Ice cold Chenin Blanc here!” Beer is the beverage of choice for tailgate parties, but wine definitely has it’s place in your Superbowl festivities. What could better with pizza than a full bodied red? It’s pizza with the guys watching the game though, not fancy dress with your significant other, so you don’t want to break the bank. My choice would be Lindemans Bin 50 Shiraz, a bargain red that doesn’t taste like a bargain.

A good white for the game

Still whites would be harder to fit into a Superbowl party, but if you like whites stick to full flavored ones like Sauvignon Blanc. I just placed an order for the Viu Manent 2006 Sauvignon Blanc based on a good review. I haven’t tried it yet, but it would be my choice for a still white on game day.

This relaxed sparkling wine won’t disappoint

Sparkling wine seems like on obvious choice, but you shouldn’t waste good wine by shaking the bottle and spraying it on all your friends. For something a little different than Champaign, try Prosecco. It’s an Italian sparkling wine that’s a little sweeter and more fruity than the French variety. A good one to try is il Prosecco, which comes in a distinctive bottle topped with a crown cap (like beer!).

So, by all means, stock up on beer for the Superbowl, but don’t forget the wine.

Photo courtesy of Aaron Edwards who has made it available under the creative commons license – thanks Aaron!

Update 4/19/2010 – Find your own superbowl wine by tasting blind

How do you tell a diamond in the ruff from an overpriced “bargain?” Compare it against a wine you know in a blind tasting. It’s the only way to set aside the mental baggage we all carry and see a wine as it really is. Here’s a quick and easy way to do your own blind tasting at home.

Join The Club!

I don’t know too many winemakers personally, so most of my interaction with other people, who share my interest, is online. I’ve thought about joining a club every so often, but never pursued it. Well, I was at the Puyallup Fair the other day, and I ran into a wonderful lady named Peggy. She was running a booth for the Puget Sound Amateur Wine and Beermaking Club. They put on the Puyallup Fair wine and beermaking competitions, arrange bulk purchases of wine grapes, and host events like wine tours and a holiday party. Maybe they don’t get points for coming up with a catchy name that distills down to a clever acronym. Mingling with my fellow winemakers sounds pretty good, though, and I think I’ll drop in on them.