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The Biggest Issue Facing the Wine Industry

I posit that with various reports of consumer direct wine shipping showing anywhere from 100 – 300% growth year over year and virtually all wine being shipped via common carrier—UPS and FedEx—the biggest issue facing the wine industry today isn’t biodynamics, or screw cap versus cork, TCA, or RFID for counterfeiting or any of the other myriad issues that that stoke the passion of wine consumers everywhere.  The biggest issue in the wine industry today is direct shipping and the appropriate care of the wine shipped with the fulfillment provider choices we have.

It’s pretty simple—it doesn’t matter if laws allow the wine industry to ship everywhere willy-nilly and it doesn’t matter if customers wince at the thought of paying expensive shipping charges.  If the wine isn’t going to show up in good shape, it’s all for naught. 

As a wine guy told my brother years ago after an unfortunate incident with an expensive bottle of wine on a hot summer day, “You wouldn’t leave your dog or a gallon of milk in your car during a hot summer day, and you shouldn’t leave wine in your car, either.”

Good point.

It seems, though, that our uniformed delivery brethren don’t follow the same mantra.  And, it’s a mystery really, especially given the focus both UPS and FedEx have placed on the wine industry with specific, dedicated wine shipping portions of their site found here and here.

Over the course of the past two weeks I’ve ordered and received 6 bottles of Patz & Hall Pinot Noir, a 12 bottle wine club shipment from Caparone and some samples from a gracious wine company.  This isn’t the first time, obviously, that I’ve received wine in the mail, delivered by common carrier.  In fact, I receive wine in the mail quite frequently.  And, it seems that shipping to Indiana, with the obfuscation of our local law, is increasing as wineries are starting to adopt Indiana as a shipping state.  In fact, Radcru.com’s current offer with Cameron Hughes is shipping to Indiana, an offer I’m going to take.

Recent experience with both UPS and FedEx is giving me pause for reflection, however. Make no mistake, this is bigger than the wine industry proper and requires participatory, proactive support from the two dominant shippers.

The aforementioned wine and samples were shipped via both FedEx and UPS and both required an adult signature—something I certainly don’t have issue with, but here’s what I found out in the process of trying to provide the said signature:

Deliveries that require signature don’t leave the truck until it’s delivered, at least for FedEx.  In the paraphrased words of the FedEx guy I spoke with, in the process of trying to provide a signature to him, they “hate” signatures and the package doesn’t leave the truck until it’s signed for.  Therefore, if a wine shipment goes out on Wednesday for 2nd day delivery and you’re not at your house on a Friday, that wine is going to sit in the truck over the weekend or until it’s delivered—that’s like setting a bottle of wine outside for five days.  I don’t give a damn if its summer or winter; you don’t want to expose wine to elements for that long.

You can’t have FedEx pull it off the truck for pick-up without significant coordination and if that wine happens to be sitting on the truck during a 90 degree day for two or three days, well, sorry about your luck.

Fortunately, I was lucky, and the wine, insulated with Styrofoam, was cool to the touch when I received it on a 70 degree day.

However, my Patz & Hall is a different story.  I missed a delivery and called UPS to coordinate a pick-up after hours.  When I picked up the wine at 8:30 at night, after it had been on a UPS truck all day on a very warm 90 degree late spring day, the bottles were warm to the touch.  Not a little bit warm, but a lot warm.  Warm enough to cause concern.  I’m guessing that the ambient temperature on a UPS truck, on a hot summer day, can easily reach 120 degrees.  It doesn’t take long to start to worry about the condition of wine in that environment.

These carriers, both with dedicated wine web sites and teams of sales people dedicated to wine shipping, need to step up to the plate and start to care for the tender goods, the wine. 

In order for the direct consumer shipping to increase, the biggest issue in my mind isn’t cost, its quality.  In order for direct wine shipping to increase, consumers need reassurances that the wine isn’t going to cook in transit.  People pay for quality, access, and luxury, that much is certain.  What people don’t pay for is a shadow of a doubt and that’s the effect heat has on wine.

And, frankly, while I’d like to make this a partnering opportunity with the wine industry, I’m hard pressed to figure out what else wine shippers can do short of sending the wine like live lobsters, on dry ice.

In lieu of dry ice, here’s what I suggest:

Wineries should begin to start buying temperature sensitive stickers (example here) and start labeling wine with these stickers.  If a wine is exposed to a determined temperature for an extended period of time (like 100 degrees for more than an hour) the sticker will let the consumer know that the wine has seen adverse conditions and should be rejected upon delivery. 

It shouldn’t take long: enough rejected shipments because of too hot deliveries and I’m guessing the shippers will come to some better solutions pretty quickly.

What have your experiences been and what part of this issue am I missing?
 
For addt’l reading on wine shipping and temperatures see Tom Wark’s Post at Fermentation from almost a year ago, found here.



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Posted in, Good Grape Daily: Pomace & Lees. Permalink | Comments (19) |


Comments

On 05/29, Dr. Debs wrote:

Here here. I’m not sure you’re missing anything. I don’t do any wine shipping from June to August for just this reason. And I decided it was worth the money to have a p.o. box in a private mail center that signs for packages. This was not free, but it was a lot less expensive than six ruined bottles of Patz-Hall and it covers me for a year.

Until the shipping thing is sorted—the cost, the effect on the wine—then shipping is still going to be a backup option for folks to get wine that they’ve looked for in every store they shop in and can’t find.

On 05/29, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

Consumers should make sure of the weather, make sure their wine is shipped Monday or Tuesday and only in months of generally moderate weather (March, April, October November, possibly May, September if one is in the north.) Wineries, Retailers and Auction Houses I’ve dealt with are sensitive and responsive to this issue, generally allowing free storage until appropriate shipping times.

On 05/29, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

Many people ship to their job site so that there is always someone there to sign, and thus no problem.  If Patz & Hall, like most wineries, only ships on Monday or Tuesday I’d bet you would have avoided the issue.

On 05/29, Marshall Sontag wrote:

Hey Jeff,

WineQ offers free temperature-controlled shipping nationwide, up until your package is placed on the delivery truck that morning!

Now if only it were legal to ship to Indiana… smile

Warm regards,
Marshall

On 05/29, jb wrote:

We won’t ship during the summer months unless a customer overrides our extreme-weather no-ship policy…and we prefer if they do so, that they select overnight shipping to a facility where there will always be somebody authorized to sign for packages.

I’m going to look into those stickers, though. I’m very curious to see how they work, how reliable they are…though my feeling remains that shipping during extreme weather, hot or cold, is a buyer-beware endeavor, and that no winery or store in their right mind should risk souring a relationship with customers for short term gains.

Wine might be fragile, but even more volatile (and rightfully so) are customers who have paid for a product that arrives in imperfect condition.

On 05/30, Saint Vini wrote:

I don’t see how the stickers solve the problem.  Do FedEx and UPS guarantee that the shipments will stay cool?  Not to my knowledge.  That would mean the wineries pick up the tab for the returned shipment, not something they’re going to do.

I’ve always had wines shipped to work, always somebody there to sign for them.  When I forget and have them sent to home, I just leave a note that says “Dear UPS, I’m not going to be home to sign for my shipment in person.  My signature is below and if that’s not sufficient, reroute the package to my work address below or just send it back.”

I’ve never had one rerouted or sent back.  They always end up leaving it to save more hassle…..

Last, if you track wines from winery to your store, you would be surprised how often they are exposed to the elements.  Despite this, most wines that I buy in stores aren’t cooked.  Leads me to believe its not that big of a problem.

V

On 05/30, Ken Hoggins wrote:

Great post.  I insure a number of product shipments in my real job.  These firms UPS & Fed Ex handle temperature sensitive pharmaceutical and seafood products every day.  They can do the same for wine.  It may cost bit more for white glove shipments however.  If you can’t wait until fall for your expensive CA cabs, you might want to pay more for proper delivery.  PS - do not buy insurance from Fed EX or UPS.  It’s worthless.  Wineries should get their own proper insurance for temperature sensitive transit risks.

On 05/31, Tom Dunlap wrote:

Wineries and distributors having shipping issues should check out how Agistix, an on-demand, web-based supply-chain solution, supports the logistics of The Henry Wine Group (link:http://www.sdcexec.com/online/article.jsp?id=9192&siteSection=29).
Through Agistix, the shipper has access to up to 30 carriers that will bid on each shipment. Specifications, like temperature controlled environments can be requested before the carrier bids on the shipment and account for special instructions in the pricing. This allows for the shipper to determine the best value for their shipping needs. Check us out at http://www.agistix.com.

On 06/03, Jeff Lefevere wrote:

Thanks to everybody that left a comment here.  I’m inclined to believe that common carrier shipment of wine is an issue that merits continuing review.  I don’t really see this a winery issue as much as I see it as a shipping (shipper) issue.

Good stuff, all.  I’ll probably revisit this one again soon.

All the best,

Jeff
http://www.goodgrape.com

On 02/24, Celebrity Foods wrote:

Thank you for the information.  I was going to gift a wine club membership to my mother for her next birthday.  I will make sure to have it shipped to her workplace instead of her home in hopes that overheating will not happen.  I hadn’t thought about problems with shipping before reading this post.

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