A recent thread about shipping and weather finally got me to write a shipping primer that I've been meaning to post for a long time. Many of these points we all know, but others may be new. So here, for what they're worth, are my thoughts on shipping. I'd certainly love to hear from others both in and out of the industry on what they think about the necessary evil of shipping.
1. The #1 thing you can do to make sure your wine shipment is safe from weather is to ship to a business address. The carriers will not just drop off wine at a house so if you're not home to receive a shipment, it's going back on the truck (which may be hot or cold) to ride around for the rest of the day and they'll try again tomorrow. Shipping to a business address may also save you money. UPS, for example, charges extra for delivery to a residential address. In our case, it's an extra $5 per box.
2. If you do not want, or are unable, to have wine delivered to your own workplace, you may want to consider 3rd party off-site storage to at least receive your deliveries and keep them safe until you are ready for them. This will provide a business address for about the price of a case or two of wine per year. Really active collectors might want to consider 3rd party storage in Wine Country. Some will pick up your wine for free or we, at least, will deliver to them for free meaning that you can consolidate all your wine shipments into one or two and ship at your convenience from the 3rd party storage.
3. Let the winery know if there are times you don't want the wine shipped (going to be out of town?) and if there is a time you do want shipments. If you have a specific shipping date in mind, go ahead and give it but realize that smaller wineries that have to outsource their shipping may not be able to meet that exact date and are unable to provide instant turnaround of your order. Expect wineries/retailers to watch the weather but remind them too. Neither winemakers nor retailers want you to get damaged wine but sometimes the shipping system has a mind of its own. Good wineries/retailers will do their best to meet your needs; don't support those that won't. Wine is alot sturdier than I've seen many on the forums give it credit for but we still shoot for high temps at the delivery location to be between 45 and 75.
4. If you are really concerned about hitting an exact window, you'll have to ship 2 Day Air. The most valuable thing about 2 Day Air (and we pay through the nose for it) is the guarantee of delivery date, not the speed it passes through South Dakota. Ground shipments have lower priority with the carriers so while typically wine can make it coast to coast to major metro areas via ground in 5 days, it may not. It all depends on the carrier/shipper load and demand. Just as the post office gets busy around the holidays, so do carriers and shippers in the mild weather of Fall and Spring. One note, folks are often worried about what happens to these undelivered shipments on the weekends. If they are still headed east, the train keeps moving. They only stop and sit when they reach that your final delivery hub. I've yet to determine this exactly, but that may mean that in mild weather, your wine being shipped ground coast to coast is actually safer shipping on a Wednesday rather than a Monday.
5. Use Cellartracker or some other tool to keep track of what you have pending and when to expect it. If something changes and your shipping needs change, let the winery know.
6. It's tough to calculate how much shipping should cost and whether a winery is using shipping as a profit center just by visiting the UPS web site or based on your experiences with Amazon. NO ONE likes shipping costs but here are some things you may be paying for besides the UPS guy: storage at the shipper, wine shipping boxes, Charge for Adult Signature, Charge for delivery to residence. Wineries typically try to either average it out or just pass the cost straight on to the consumer. I've seen people even complain about free shipping because they think they are subsidizing the folks that live farther from the winery. Oh well.
6. Please have patience. Most here understand but I'll tell you, we get many inquiries: "Where's my wine? I ordered it a long time ago." Well, it's 85 degrees at your residential delivery address.
7. Most important: let the winery know what you think about your shipping experience. Shipping is the biggest pain for a winery and anything we can do to make it better for ourselves and our customers is the goal.