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Will Travel for Wine...But How to Get it Home?

Updated: Oct 8, 2023

Is there a better way to pass the time than tasting wine with a view like this:

Constantia Glen Winery outside of Cape Town, South Africa.

I would argue there is not.

Sadly, I do not (yet) live in the middle of an awe-inspiring wine region, so the best I can do is go visit, drink good wine, and bring some back home to enjoy with friends and remember the time I was here:

Asara Wine Hotel, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Mendoza, Argentina. Stellenbosch, South Africa. Napa, California. Seattle, Washington. Willamette Valley, Oregon. Champagne, France. Cases of wine have come back with me from these places over the years.

If your future travel plans involve visiting a place with good wine, and it is not within driving distance to your home, here are my tips for flying with wine.

Move to South Africa

I visited Stellenbosch, South Africa in between a few nights in Cape Town and a safari in Kruger National Park. At the Kanonkop winery, the sales clerk offered me a soft-sided bag to carry on to my flight to Jo-burg so I could take some bottles on safari. I looked at her like she was insane because of course you can’t bring wine in your carry on. She looked at me like I was insane because of course you CAN bring wine in your carry on in South Africa. Up. To. Six. Bottles.

Skeptical at best, I took the soft-sided carry on to the Cape Town airport the next day. I got to security, placed my bag on the belt, and waited for the officer to confiscate my wine. Instead, he asked if he could come to the party I was having and waved me on.

Dear America: can you imagine how awesome life would be if we could fly to Napa on weekends, load up on wine, and fly it home in our carry on?

Short of moving to South Africa, here are your other options depending on how much wine you want to bring home.

Budding Wine Enthusiast (2-5 bottles)

  • Check a 25/26in suitcase but don’t stuff it too full

  • Purchase wine skins or roll bottles in clothing (thicker things like sweaters ideal)

  • You should be able to pack 2-5 bottles this way. I’ve never had one break, but if you’re worried about that, the wine skin is the way to go.

  • Check bag full of wine on way home (be careful not to go overweight)

Time to Buy a Second Wine Rack (6-12 bottles)

Most wineries will give or sell you shipping boxes for either 6 or 12 bottles. While I like to tell myself I will only buy 6 bottles, I always get 12. So my advice: admit you love wine and go for the bigger box. Once it’s full, tape it up and fly it home as a checked bag.

  • If you have airline status, this checked bag is often free.

  • If you have an airline credit card that gets you a free bag, your wine box can be that free bag

  • If you are flying internationally, this checked bag is often free.

  • If you fly Southwest, this checked bag is free.

  • If you are touring wineries and want to collect wine from several to fly back, it’s helpful to have a car to cart around the box. I’ve often thought vineyard hopping via bike would be delightful, but what do you do with the take home wine?

Reminder: if you are traveling internationally, the customs limit on alcohol is one liter duty-free. According to CBP, there is no limit on the amount of alcohol you can bring in for personal use, but more than one liter you are supposed to declare and pay import tax. However, I declared a case coming in from South Africa and CBP didn’t care; they waved me right on out with no tax paid. I’ve also brought in above the liter limit several times from France and they didn’t care. My point is, I have no idea if this rule is ever actually enforced. If anyone has experience with it, I would love to know.

You can also investigate direct shipping options at either a vineyard or a wine shop.

  • When I was in Mendoza, Argentina, we found a tasting room that also shipped wine to the USA. If you purchased $250 worth of wine, they would ship it to you for free (a great deal in my opinion). A couple of weeks after I got home, a box full of delicious Argentinian wine arrived.

I Drank All My Bottles Already and Need More

Chat up the staff at the vineyards you visit. Let them know what wines you enjoy the most and exchange contact info. Someday you might get a surprise email when wines you like become available, along with an offer to sell and ship them to you.

  • Or, if it's a vineyard you really like, join the wine club.

  • Or, if overseas, ask the vineyard who their importers/distributors are in your country/region so you can look for their wines when you get home

Happy wine collecting!

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