You've found the perfect malbec or a delightful riesling, and you want to share it with friends and family members across the country. You're generous like that. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as boxing and shipping wine from your local post office. Every state has its own laws and regulations about shipping alcohol to and from homes and businesses, making wine gift-giving a complicated proposition. It can be done, but you're going to have to make use of a middleman to get your bottle of wine where it's going.
Individuals Sending Wine in the Mail
When we repealed Prohibition, the United States devised a set of laws about how and when people could sell and purchase wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages. In most cases, you must be a licensed wine dealer to legally ship or mail wine anywhere in the country. Noted exceptions include auctioneers dealing in valuable collectible wines, but in most cases, it's illegal for any unlicensed citizen to mail wine to another person.
Shipping Wine to Another State
If you want to mail a bottle of wine to a friend across town, you only have to consider your local liquor laws. Sending wine as a gift to someone in another state puts two different jurisdictions into play. Between Prohibition and the year 2005, the decision about who could ship wine and where it could be shipped was left up to state legislatures, leaving regulations in the tangled mess that was as predictable as it was confusing. In 2005, the Supreme Court took on the issue in the Granholm v. Heald decision, which ruled on the unconstitutionality of states discriminating between out-of-state and in-state wineries when deciding who can sell and ship wine to consumers.
Today's retail wine landscape is a confusing one, with a tangled list of laws applying to both wineries and out-of-state wine retailers. The legality of shipping from one state to another depends on who is doing the shipping, where the wine is being shipped from, and what state it's going to. It's applied fairly across the board, but the law requires you to research rules pertaining to your particular transaction to find a legal way to get the wine to your gift recipient.
Shipping Carriers for Wine
Mailing wine as a gift isn't technically legal anywhere in the United States, as it's illegal to send alcohol in any form through the U.S. mail. The USPS prohibits the mailing of alcohol, either domestically or to foreign countries.
Wine must be shipped through commercial carriers. Both UPS and FedEx will ship alcohol in certain circumstances. In both cases, the shipper must have an account with the shipping company, the wine must be properly packaged to help prevent breakage, the packages must be clearly labeled as containing alcohol, and the final delivery cannot be completed unless an adult over the age of 21 can sign for the package.
Best Options for Mailing Wine as a Gift
You can't pick up your favorite bottle of wine in your local store and pop it in the mail for your best friend across the country, not if you want to avoid breaking multiple federal laws. There are multiple options for getting that wine or at least one she might like just as much to her in a legal way. You'll have to use a go-between, but that can also include expert advice on choosing great wines that you and your friend might enjoy on future occasions.
Shipping From a Winery
Have you fallen in love with a certain type of wine because you took a winery tour and enjoyed the free samples they gave out? Of course, that's why they offered a free wine tasting. They know a certain percentage of people will consider it their new favorite. But beyond the blatant marketing, most wineries offer convenient shipping to states across the country, so fans can share their favorite drinks with friends and family members. If you're still at the winery, ask a member of the staff about their shipping policies. They may even be able to give you a brochure with prices, varieties and shipping costs. If you're at home, call or email the promotions department. Someone there will be more than happy to arrange a festive gift for your friend or relative. In many cases, wineries offer tasting collections and case discounts as well as convenient shipping, giving you the option of a more elaborate gift that one simple bottle.
Use an Online Licensed Wine Retailer
In the vast majority of states, licensed wine retailers have the option of selling their wares and shipping it pretty much anywhere in the country. The law doesn't apply universally; there are still states that don't allow wine to be shipped to homes or businesses. While most states do allow this privilege, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Utah prohibit wine to be directly shipped to individuals. Other states prohibit wine from being delivered from retailers but allow it from wineries. But in most cases, you'll be able to order wine online and have it shipped as a gift.
One of the top advantages of shipping wine this way is that every wine retailer will have a chart or calculator that will tell you whether you can ship wine to your gift recipient's state. You don't have to worry about researching obscure laws and paying penalties if you make a mistake. The wine retailer assumes the risk of shipping its bottles to the correct jurisdictions.
Another advantage of using a wine retailer is that their prices are often lower than you'll find at almost any winery. Licensed retailers generally get volume discounts when they order their wine by the case, which gives them the ability to pass these savings on to the consumer. No matter what kind of deal your local winery offers, it's always worth checking the online retailers to see if they can give you a better price. Reputable online wine retailers include WineLibrary, WTSO, Bottlerocket and Garagiste.
Become a Wine Club Member
Membership in an online wine club turns delivering a gift of wine to friends or family members into a simple task. Wine clubs have permits to ship to almost every state. The advantage here is that your club is also likely to have access to wines that many commercial retailers don't, giving you the ability to gift a better bottle of wine.
Joining a wine club isn't something you do to find deep discounts in your favorite vintage. Instead of costs, wine clubs concentrate on finding the finest quality wines at reasonable prices. In other words, these wines will be worth the money. They're especially good if you don't know a lot about wine, want to learn or, are just starting out in the hobby. Or, they're also good for people who want to ship a very special wine to a friend and can't find unique items at general online wine retailers. If you're not sure which wine club is right for you, check out Wine Club Reviews online. This site rates wine clubs according to a number of criteria, such as "best red wine club," "best premium wine club," "best wine club to give as a gift" and "best wine-of-the-month club."
Victoria Bailey owned and managed restaurants for 25 years, from an award-winning gourmet bistro to a pre-hipster artisan coffee house. She's constantly following food and wine trends and has even created her own private coffee bean blend. Bailey's work has been published in a number of industry magazines, and she literally wrote the book (well, one of them) on opening a neighborhood pizza restaurant.