Shipping Wine in the Heat: Speed and Styrofoam

I order most of my wine online. Hell, even when I’m buying it at a store in my city, I still order it online most of the time so I can have it ready when I go down and pick it up. But often, I’m buying more obscure wines that I find at random retailers out there on the Internet, or I’m just scouring for a deal, so quite often I’m in the position of having wine shipped to me.

I’m a big believer in making sure that my wine gets treated right from the point it leaves the winery to when it goes through my front door. Which means I’m a fan of importers who guarantee every wine is shipped in refrigerated containers and trucks, and retailers that let me make decisions about when I want my wine shipped to avoid it sitting in a dark brown truck on a very hot day.

In general, my level of attention to shipping wine might approach what you would describe as paranoia. Or more charitably, more safe than sorry. In general I don’t have any wine shipped to myself during the summer, even if that’s when I find myself buying. It’s easy to get lulled into complacency here in San Francisco, with our 55 degree summer days, but just across the bridge or down in the south bay, and across the rest of the western United States, it can be easily 40 degrees warmer. I have visions of cooked wine; corks protruding from leaky bottles; vinegar instead of vino. And so I just tell these retailers to not bother sending me anything until October.

But as it turns out, I may not need to be quite as paranoid about shipping wine during the Summer as I thought, at least under certain circumstances.

Vinfolio, a wine retailer and services company here in San Francisco (and, by way of full disclosure, a client of my consulting firm and an advertiser here on Vinography) is in the middle of doing some really interesting tests on what exactly happens to wines as they travel around the country in the backs of those delivery trucks and in the bellies of airplanes.

As the CEO Steve Bachmann writes in a recent blog entry, Vinfolio put temperature probes on and inside several boxes, and inside several wine bottles in those boxes, and sent them around the country at various shipping speeds and in various conditions with surprising results.

The results of their first shipping test are in, and they are somewhat encouraging to the paranoid.

In general it seems that properly chilled wines shipped in styrofoam shipping containers (I HATE styrofoam, but perhaps a little less after reading the results of this experiment) hold temperatures down pretty well despite major swings in outside temperature.

When shipped overnight delivery, a full case of wine exposed to outside temperatures of up to 92 degrees (they purposely routed the box through Memphis) only saw the internal temperature of the wine bottles climb 8 degrees from its starting temperature of 61 to 69 degrees, well within the “safe” zone for wine.

Other tests at slower shipping speeds and different packaging configurations will be forthcoming, but just on the face of this test I may not have to be quite as anxious about my wine shipping conditions (truth be told I’m mildly concerned even when it is not summer).

I guess I’ll have to wait to see what a 4 day standard UPS ground shipment routed through Dallas on a 100 degree day ends up looking like. Unfortunately I may need to wait until next summer to do that. Maybe they can choose Miami instead.

Read the results of Vinfolio’s first shipping temperature test.