Shipping liquids internationally can get to be a bit sticky (thank you, thank you.) Certain carriers won’t accept specific types of liquids and obtaining the equipment necessary to ship liquids in large quantities can be difficult and expensive. One industry that is largely responsible for dominating the liquid shipping market is the alcohol industry. Due to the culture surrounding the wine industry, wine has become one of the most frequently internationally traded liquids. The U.S. imports and exports wine primarily with Canada, UK, Japan, China, Italy, and Hong Kong.
Shipping wine internationally isn’t just about protecting it from spills – you have to maintain the quality of the wine as well. Humidity, temperature, pressure, oxygen, and so many other factors all contribute to fluctuating quality. That being said, here are some of our tips on how to ship wine internationally:
Shipping Wine Overseas
The 3 primary concerns of shipping wine internationally are: 1) Quality, 2) Food Safety, and 3) Transportation Security. Quality obviously refers to the preservation of flavors and aromas in the wine. Food safety refers to the bacterial, viral, fungal, or any other infectious diseases and contamination that may occur while in transit. Dirty containers or exposed wine can contract poisonous substances that render the alcohol unsafe. Lastly, transportation security refers to the structural integrity of the drums/containers/pouches/bottles carrying the wine. Without secure containers for the wine, spills and leaks are bound to happen while in-transit.
Shipping Wine: Container Options
If you are planning on moving large quantities of wine internationally, there are multiple solutions for transportation. The most important factor in selecting a container is whether the wine will be shipped packaged or as a loose liquid to be bottled at destination. Let’s talk about the latter situation:
Shipping Loose Wine Internationally
Shipping loose wine, or non-bottled/non-boxed wine provides many options for transport. Various different containers can accommodate liquid transportation all while maintaining the integrity of flavors, aromas, and safety. Here are a few:
Flexitanks look like a giant, round, inflated waterbed that fits inside a standard shipping container. The empty “bag” is placed inside an international shipping container. A hose is then attached to the spout of the bag and liquid is poured in until full.
The benefits of flexitanks is that it is easy to transport large quantities of liquid. A standard flexitank can fit upwards of 24,000 liters (6,340 gallons). It is also significantly lighter than shipping bottled wine, considering the glass bottle makes up for 40% of the net weight of a full bottle of wine. The bags are usually considered to be disposable, and in an industry such as that of wine and precious liquids, this is common practice to avoid cross-contamination of flavors.
While flexitanks are great, there are a few weaknesses to shipping with this method. Firstly, flexitanks are considered one of the least-safe liquid containers – not regarding food safety, but structural integrity. The bags can be easily punctured or ripped when being loaded into or out of shipping containers, making the risk of spillage or leakage rather high. In general, the containers work fine, but make sure that your shipping container has no rust, bolts, or sharp edges in the interior or near the doors.
An ISO tank is a cylindrical drum that fits inside of a 20ft container frame (not the actual container itself). It is only slightly smaller than a standard TEU, and so it is loaded into a thin frame that fits the dimensions of a 20ft container. It can then be loaded on trucks, trains, and sea-born vessels for transit.
ISO tanks have many advantages – they are large, steel containers which provide the greatest deal of security. They also have air-tight seals which aid in preservation of delicate flavors and aromas in wine. Lastly, their material is easy to clean, which helps to avoid cross-contamination between other wines and liquids.
However, no solution is without drawbacks. Unfortunately, ISO tanks are in high demand and low supply. This means they need to be reserved far in advance at a rather hefty price. Also, while the material is easy to clean, it does have to be cleaned. This means extra labor cost and time in transit. Lastly, since the containers are re-usable, it is your job as an exporter to make sure it gets cleaned and moved to the depot it will depart from next.
Shipping Bottled/Boxed Wine Internationally
For those that are working with a supplier/buyer that wants to purchase bulk quantities of bottled or boxed wine, different shipping containers need to be arranged. ISO tanks and flexitanks are reservoirs for loose liquids and cannot be used to transport pre-packaged liquid.
If you are shipping wine internationally, it will either be through ocean or air. Your only options with either are ocean shipping containers, or ULD’s (shipping containers for air cargo). Thus, your primary concern when shipping wine internationally should be how these spaces are effectively managed. Here are some tips:
Blocking and Bracing
We have written previous articles on the topic of blocking and bracing. The idea essentially involves securing the interior of a shipping container to minimize or completely mitigate shifting and moving of the container’s cargo. This is especially important when it comes to wine bottles since the glass is so fragile.
After properly packaging and wrapping your wine, load them into crates with locking doors/tops that can be easily secured to the sides of the containers. There are plenty of helpful guides online that describe how the cargo can then blocked and braced using wooden beams, ratchet straps, and additional materials.
Gensets and Refrigerated Containers
Controlling the temperature of a shipping container is important for maintaining the integrity of flavors and quality of the wine. There are plenty of places you can get refrigerated shipping containers from, but just remember that you will need to provide power to them. At the port, they are often capable of plugging these containers into their own power sources. However, once your goods get loaded onto their vessel for international departure, it is up to you to keep the refrigerated unit running.
This is where gensets come in. A genset (short for generator set), is a diesel-powered generator that can provide enough power to keep a refrigerated container up and running while cargo is in transit. If you are concerned about the quality of your wine when shipping, make sure to talk with your forwarder about properly refrigerating your cargo.
Shipping liquids internationally is already tough enough. However, throw in precious commodities such as wine and it gets even more difficult. You have to maintain the quality of the flavors and aromas of the liquid, all while keeping it safe from leaks and spills, and keeping it from contamination.
Which type of shipping container you select will depend on the state of the wine during shipping. Vineyards will often export wine as a loose liquid to be bottled at destination. In this case, there are a couple of liquid shipping reservoirs that can be used – flexitanks and ISO tanks. Flexitanks are like a large inflatable bag that goes inside of a regular 20ft container, while ISO tanks are large cylindrical stainless steel drums that provide air tight seals and extra safety. Shipping bottled wine is different – it’s all about temperature control and blocking and bracing the cargo properly.
If you ship liquids, especially precious liquids like alcohol or delicate chemicals, feel free to reach out to one of our team members to ask us questions. We have tons of experience on the subject matter and are always willing to help!