With hundreds of bottles staring at me every time I pass the wine aisle at our local grocery story, it’s hard to believe I get bored with the selection, but I do. The store serves as a wonderful place to pick up our old standbys on any given night, but the wine world itself is so large and diverse, even an entire aisle of wine can’t come close to breaching its diversity. That’s why I love that here in Texas we can order wines directly from a wide variety of small and boutique wineries that produce high quality wine but typically don’t have the output to get on a retail distributor’s radar.
Direct to Consumer (DtC) shipping from the winery is currently available in 40 state, but not all wines are available in every state. A permit between the winery and each individual state is required to ship directly to consumers, so a wine that might be available here in Texas may not be available in another state. But for wines that do ship directly to consumers in your state, this is the best way to experience the amazing medly of varietals, blends, styles and climates that American wine has to offer, short of personally visiting every winery in every wine region every year.
Although only about 2 percent of total wine sales in the US are ordered online directly from the winery, I buy about 30 percent of my wine this way. Why? Three good reason:
1) Provides options. As Americans we don’t like to be fenced in. We like adventure, exploration and choices. We like making our own decisions. The option to order directly from any one of thousands of wineries gives us that freedom. This is far better than settling for what someone else has chosen, or been incented to choose, to put on the grocery store or big box shelf. Imagine someone hands you a glass of Cab Franc. You’ve never tried it before and you love it. How many options do you have to buy Cab Franc at the grocery store? Mine had two. The big box wine store down the street had six. I can count 160 wineries in just Napa Valley alone that produce Cab Franc wines. Another 50 are produced in Sonoma and hundreds more from Paso Robles, Washington state and other locations. That’s the magnitude of additional options opened to consumers by ordering directly from the winery.
2) Rewards those who do the work and take the risks. The winery you don’t see in your local grocery store is most likley a small or family business. That winery bears all the cost of producing the bottle of wine and is fully responsible for the quality that ends up in your glass. That winery also take on all the risks of weather, pests or production problems wiping out all or part of their production in any given year. Yet, on a $24 bottle of wine bought at the grocery store or big box retailer, on average the winery only gets $1.35 above the $10,65 cost of producing the bottle. The remaiing $12 is split by the distributor and retailer. If you buy that same $24 bottle directly from the winery, then the winery alone gets rewarded with the entire profit for the work they do and the risk they take in providing the wine you love.
3) Provides preferential access. Most of the wines you can buy at the big wine stores and grocery stores produce hundreds of thousands of cases of their wine each year. If the run out this year, they find a way to quickly make more next year. Many of the wines you can order directly from the winery are limited in production. They come from specific rows of vines each year or are hand-crafted in ways that limit the number of cases that can be produced each year. As an example, three wines I don’t miss ordering every year and the production of each are: Bacigalupi Vineyards Chardonnay (360 total cases), Patine Cellars Gap’s Crown Pinot Noir (148 total cases) and Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc (125 total cases). These wines sell out quickly each year. Typically those who purchased last year get first crack at the wines the next year and are alerted ahead of time when new wines will be realeased.
The primary drawback to ordering directly from the winery is that you do have to pay for shipping, but I’ve found the advantages above are way more valuable that the cost of shipping.
If you are interested in ordering DtC wines directly from a winery (and you should be), here are a couple of quick tips:
- You have to have someone who is over 21 and observed by the delivery driver not to be drunk at the time sign for the shipment. They will not leave wine on your porch. If you work and your company will allow you to accept the shipment at your place of business (where you or someone in the mail rom will be there to sign for it), this is the best option for delivery.
- If you do order to your home, miss the shipment and have the option to pick it up later that evening at the shipping center, do it if you can. The less time the wine spends sitting in a warehouse of on a truck, the less risk of being damaged by imrpoper storage of the wine.
- I don’t order DtC wine shipment during the summer in Texas because I don’t want to risk the wine being damaged by heat during shipment. Some wineries do offer Cold Pack shipping or overnight shipping, but it typically costs more and I am not yet at the point that I truly trust it won’t be exposed to heat if there is a missed delivery or takes extra time to reach the inside of my house. That’s why I am happy to see fall approaching and the ability to order again.
- If you like the wine you ordered, take a picture and share your experience on social media. These wineries don’t have huge ad budgets, so your public thumbs up allows others to learn about and expeirence them as well. That’s where I get most of my recommendations of new wines to try…from others who have ordered and enjoyed the wines.
- Find some wine-loving friends and collaborate. Shipping is usually less per bottle if you order more bottles, so if you all order together you can cut the cost of shipping per bottle and save some money.
In order to help facilitate finding great wineries to order from directly, I am going to start posting recommendations for you to consider. If you’ve ordered wine directly from a winery and loved what you received, please share with me so I can share with others.
Image by Kae Yen Wong on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.