Last week fellow wineblogger Alder published a post about How to Send Wine Samples to a Blogger. In it, he takes on the wine public relations community for their shipping procedures. I agree with some of what he said, and am currently checking with PR reps to see what winebloggers can do to make things easier on their side--there are simple things like providing a phone number with the shipping information and having someone at least 21 at home to receive the wine that make everything move along faster. PR folks, feel free to contact me if you have suggestions, and I'll pass them along anonymously in a future post.
I'm also going to make it clear that I'm not complaining here--it's exciting to get to taste wines from all over the world, and I'm proud that my little patch of the internet has generated enough attention that I get this opportunity. I always try to be friendly and professional in my dealings with wineries and PR agencies, and I think that open communication is a good thing for everyone involved. I do have a few specific issues regarding shipping, based on my prior role as a corporate trainer. One of the things that I taught was proper pack and ship procedures, and I've also been involved in the testing and purchasing of customized cardboard solutions for specific products.
While I was thinking about Alder's post, I noticed that I had a lot of empty boxes in the living room, representing some of the most common shipping methods. Since most people will purchase either single bottles in a store or receive a 12-pack case with simple cardboard dividers, I thought I'd show what it looks like when you receive bottles one or two at a time. My primary concern is that the wine be delivered safely, with as little internal motion as possible. If the bottles are free to rattle around and bang against each other, there's a good chance of breakage.
Some folks are as passionate about their hatred of styrofoam as I am when it comes to the metric/standard debate. (METRIC RULES!) I'm not personally bothered by it, but here are the arguments: Styrofoam is rigid and provides great insulation regarding temperature. However, it's not recyclable, not compressible, and if you get a lot of it your house can fill up with the stuff between garbage pickups.
If you get one that holds a full twelve bottles, it can be kept and reused as a wine rack in a closet. It's not going to be as good as a climate controlled, sealed container, but that styrofoam will provide a lot of stability against the normal temperature fluctuations of a house.
This is my personal favorite. Easily recyclable, and it has some great benefits: it holds the bottle in place securely, is lightweight, and those ridges provide a surprisingly strong structure. This is very similar to the egg containers you see at the grocery store.
Additionally, and this is just a minor note, I love the boxes that open along the long edge like this. It's much easier to get the wine out. Sometimes the ones that open from the top are packed a little tight and you either have to rip the whole box apart or shake it to remove the bottle.
This is an interesting style I don't see often, but I like. There's a double-layered corrugated cardboard insert that can be adjusted to fit different sizes of bottles. Combined with the outside cardboard box, this falls into the category of practically indestructible. Corrugated shipping boxes are a lot stronger than they look, and when you have a total of three layers it's really strong. The adjustable tabs allow for different shapes and sizes of bottles.
Also, when you break down the box to throw out or be recycled, everything lays flat. Volume is a big thing when it comes to efficient disposal.
The worst thing you can do is wrap a bottle in bubble wrap and let it bounce around inside an oversized cardboard box. Motion is the enemy! Sometimes this method involves a bottle wrapped up like a football and then surrounded by several cubic feet of packing peanuts. It's overkill, and also doesn't keep the wine still.
In addition to the above, I've also received bottles wrapped in air cushions, wadded up newspaper, straw, and many different kinds of cardboard inserts. There's no perfect, one size fits all solution for wineries and agencies, but the cardboard and recycled paper options have multiple benefits for the shipper and receiver: they take up the least amount of space, reducing shipping costs; they firmly secure the bottles to avoid unnecessary motion; and they're more environmentally friendly than plastic or styrofoam solutions.
Wineries? Retailers? Bloggers? I'd love to hear your further input on the topic.