In 2016, Americans consumed over 789 million gallons of wine – equating to almost 3 gallons per person1. Wine consumption continues to increase in the U.S., challenging American wine importers to continue to import enough wine to match demand. Currently, winemakers are in the midst of harvest season (usually August through October depending on the type of wine), which is a race against time to pick grapes at peak ripeness to be processed and barreled before aging. Once the aging and bottling process is over, wine is exported from major wine regions – Europe, South America, California, etc. – to countries all over the world.
Wine Maintenance and Requirements
From the initial picking of grapes to shipping out perfectly-aged bottles, the wine supply chain has very specific qualifications and time constraints that make it an extremely regulated and cost sensitive good to ship. Wine must be shipped in temperature-controlled environments (usually around 55 degrees Fahrenheit) in order to preserve flavors and freshness2. Temperatures outside the ideal range can cause the wine to go bad, also known as being “cooked,” resulting in millions of dollars of lost sales for importers.
When shipping temperature-controlled products, there are a variety of modes that can help improve the shipping process. For instance, dedicated fleets can help ensure product safety and consistent on-time deliveries, vital aspects of the wine supply chain. Another option is to utilize refrigerated intermodal containers, wines coming from California may utilize rail services to ship all over the United States. Dependable transportation options ensure product integrity from place-to-place, giving piece of mind to wine companies.
Certificates and Specifications
The Federal Alcohol Administration has strict qualifications on importers in order to regulate wines entering the U.S. Permits must be obtained directly from the Federal Alcohol Administration, and have stipulations such as the importer having a business office in the U.S. and contracting with an existing licensed importer3. Certifications directly related to how the wine was produced are also required for importers to ensure the wine is compliant with U.S. Food and Beverage standards3.
Laws preventing wine from being shipped directly to consumer also greatly influence the wine supply chain, as only 13 of states currently allow for it. Wine importers must be sure state laws allow direct to consumer shipment, or else they must utilize retailers or wholesalers in order to ensure compliance with U.S. law. Alcohol laws differ greatly state-to-state on the types of permits required, maximum amount for shipping, and policies on direct shipping4.
Although the shipping process for wine requires specialized capabilities and compliance expertise, partnering with a 3PL can help navigate the extensive customs, shipping terms, and regulatory factors that go into importing wine, while providing additional solutions for getting the wine to consumers. Ultimately, the more seamless the shipping process is, the quicker customers can enjoy without comprising the taste and quality of each bottle.