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Why Wine Can’t Ship for Free

When we came across Esther Mobley’s article, “Here’s why wine doesn’t ship for free – and shouldn’t if you want small wineries to survive” in the San Francisco Chronicle recently, we all audibly sighed a grateful, knowing sigh here at the winery.

All small businesses face major hurdles as they navigate a world dominated by the big guys. But all wineries, and especially the small ones, have an additional set of unique challenges to contend with.

There are federal liquor laws and more specific state-by-state regulations that impose strict and detailed rules about wine shipping. Many of these rules are tied to alliances with wholesale distributors and discourage producers (like wineries) from by-passing the three-tier system in order to sell directly to consumers (like you).

Complex state regulations dictate how much wine we can ship, what customer information we must collect and keep, and whether or not we can ship wine to that state at all. We pay fees and taxes to each of these states as well and maintain expensive software to stay up-to-date on compliance.

Then there are the actual costs associated with shipping wine. Wine bottles are heavy, fragile, and perishable– a triple threat when it comes to shipping costs. Smaller wineries often ship less wine, so their negotiated rates with services like UPS and FedEx are higher than a large winery or corporate retailer doing a higher volume. If you work with a fulfillment center, there are minimums and fees associated with their services as well.

More fundamentally, we use packaging specially made to protect wine from breakage. To accommodate shipments during warmer weather, we also add cold packs– frozen at the time of packing– to ensure the wine is kept cool throughout its journey. Truly, overnight shipping is the best mode of transportation when you’re moving wine in the heat of the summer, but these costs are sometimes more than the actual product you’re purchasing.

What Esther so kindly offers in her article is perspective. The truth is, we all balk at checkout when free shipping isn’t offered. It’s become so commonplace that we forget the true cost of the services we enjoy. High shipping fees aren’t meant to make wine more exclusive or be prohibitive. More than anything, we want more people to be able to enjoy our wines. Access to good wine is part of why we do what we do. That’s why we’ve made it a priority to offer reasonably priced wines and reasonably priced shipping.

In the quickly shifting online shopping landscape, we hope there continues to be a place in consumers’ minds and hearts for small businesses. We love what we do. And we hope other wineries, like us, can continue to share the fruits of our labor for many years to come.