Saturday, December 02, 2006

Walking The Wine in the Age of Terrorism

Wine fans know that one of the great joys of touring wine country, anywhere, is buying a few bottles to take back home so that you can relive the memories at later time. The ban on carrying liquids aboard airplanes in the wake of this summer's foiled terrorism plot sure put the kibosh on one great activity.

Of course, safety comes first. But the outright ban on beverages -- unless you bought yours in the duty-free shop -- seems like a pretty unsophisticated approach to the potential problem. We have not traveled since the ban, but I can't help thinking about it since we have never traveled anywhere near a vineyard in the past 15 years and not picked up something to take home. What's a dedicated wine walker to do?

The wineries would suggest you ship it home. When you are physically at the winery there is usually no legal problem doing this. In fact, this option has saved many wineries in tourist areas from a serious slump in sales. I usually ship some home, but I've always been leery of shipping really expensive wines -- I'd rather carry them. And, I never ship in the middle of the summer with all that heat!

Our friends Tony and Kristen have traveled abroad recently (Provence), and I'm happy to report they beat the system. In fact, when I e-mailed Tony -- who has been known to carry back a couple of dozen bottles from abroad -- his response was, Tony 21-baggage handlers 0.

Yup, Tony was able to bring back 21 bottles with him without shipping. How did he do it? In the suitcases (4 of them), of course.

I know what you're thinking -- they'll break and ruin your clothes as well as the luggage. Tony maintains you just need to approach the problem scientifically. In this case, it means using cardboard, clothing and more cardboard...with precision.

Tony layers the inside of each suitcase with cardboard, paying special attention to potential impact points. Then dirty laundry is layered as well to provide an extra cushion. Then each bottle gets wrapped not just in socks, etc., it gets more cardboard.

Personally, I can't believe he got 21 bottles back this way, past rough and tumble, thirsty baggage handlers. But his experience is proof it can be done. I believe I will try this approach, with a few bottles, if things haven't loosened up by next year. I don't think I'd look all that bad in purple, anyway. (Photos courtesy of Tony and Kristen)


Anonymous Tony said...

Oh, Ye of little faith.
Here is my recipe for packing wine.
1. Checked baggage -
Plan to return with the maximum amount of free checked baggage. This may include carrying a collapsible heavy duty soft-sided duffle on the outbound trip.
2. Collect cardboard wine boxes -
Wine in Europe generally comes in boxes of 6 (six). When you purchase wine ask for boxes that include the internal spacers. Many times those all important spacers are not included. Use ingenuity to pick them up. We visited our village's tourist office which also sold wine. They were happy to pass along some lightly used boxes.
3. Pack smart -
Determine which wines will fly home with you. Remember, those wine 6-packs weigh 20 pounds and airlines limit free checked baggage to 50 pounds. That is why you brought the collapsed bags (to distribute the weight.) Drink the excess wine onsite or while packing.
4. Assemble the boxes-
Determine the most sound boxes then begin to pack.
Put each bottle in a sock, then into the box. Once the first three are in, insert the spacer. Then continue with the next three. Once full, close it and shake the box. If anything shifts or moves, REPACK IT. Once satisfied, securely tape it shut. Use packing tape. the reinforced stuff is good if you can get some (or bring it). The sealed box should be as solid as a (20 pound) rock. Put your name address and phone number on the outside of the box too. I have heard stories of luggage being unpacked by airport security and then repacked with additional items. Someone therefore lost something. Do not let that happen to you!
5. Pack your checked luggage –
*For soft-sided Luggage – disassemble one of the empty boxes and use it to line the perimeter of the luggage. Cut it to size as necessary. It essence you are making a soft-sided bag into a somewhat hard sided bag.
Lay luggage flat on surface. Bottom layer should consist of compressible items, as that is what will impact with the ground. Place wine 6-pack in the middle. Fill the remainder of the bag with clothing. toiletries and shoes up to the level of the top of the wine box. Place more laundry flat on top of the wine box. Have internal luggage straps prepared to cinch everything tight.
Collapse, but not disassemble an unused wine box. It should lay flat. Pop up the box and insert a small bulky item (like a polo shirt) then flatten. The springiness of the small bulky item inside the collapsed box will help provide the outermost defense against impacts. Place the flattened box on top and cinch the straps tight.
6. Locking the luggage –
I do not use locks. What I do use are the little plastic wire ties (from Radio Shack) to seal the main compartment of each piece of luggage. This tells me if the bag has been opened. Carry all valuables (except the wine) with you.
7. Pay for the extras –
If, by chance, your luggage weighs more than allowed (usually over 50 but less than 70 pounds). Pay the excess fee. It will definitely be less expensive than all other options. And don’t forget to declare the wine on your customs form.

Finally, think of your wine as the soft center of a tootsie pop. You just need to create the protective shell.
Good Luck.

12:34 PM  
Blogger JD said...

I bow to your experience and wisdom...and nerves of steel. I've got to share your comments more widely!!

6:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you seen Wine Mummy? It's basically a padded, zip-sealed bag that protects wine bottles in checked luggage. I was able to fit several different sizes of wine bottles inside and reuse it for two flights. It was 5 bucks at

7:42 AM  

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