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Buying wine in France.

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rmurphy

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Buying wine in France.

by rmurphy » Mon Jun 26, 2006 11:14 pm

I am planning a trip to France in August. I"d like to buy about 400 bottles of wine from various wineries, I discover. What is the process to get them "legally" back into the country and to Kentucky in particular?
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Re: Buying wine in France.

by Robin Garr » Mon Jun 26, 2006 11:21 pm

Hi from another Kentuckian (waving at you from Louisville).

I'm afraid your plan may not be as realistic as you might hope. Bringing back as much wine as you can carry - even up to a couple of cases - is simple. Shipping back large quantities puts you into the commercial category, and there you run into massive, perhaps impossible, red tape.

The one possible route would be this: If you have a good relationship with the staff of a larger fine-wine shop (most likely to be workable if you're in Louisville or Northern Kentucky, possibly Lexington), they might be willing to help you arrange to have one of their distributors clear a large shipment for you as if it were an import for them.

But I've got to tell you, I'm afraid the idea of walking up to a winery, buying a couple of hundred wines and having them shipped straight to you in the US is going to be darn near impossible ... and, to be honest, by the time you've paid shipping, duties and fees, would probably end up costing you more than it would to buy the same wines at Liquor Barn.
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Re: Buying wine in France.

by Eric Ifune » Tue Jun 27, 2006 1:12 pm

I brought back a considerable amount of wine from Europe in 2002. First you have to prove that the wine is for your consumption and not commercial. This may be harder or not so hard depending on the customs person you deal with. You may want to contact the customs office in your area beforehand. Also remember you have to deal with the federal customs and your state's customs office. They will then probably make you deal with a customs broker to handle some of the paperwork. Then you have to pay the federal and state customs fees. Shipping 1,500 bottles from Italy to Nevada cost me approximately $1000 for the customs fees, the broker and the storage at the customs warehouse. It took me about a week to get the wine released from the customs warehouse. This did not cover the shipping costs. Because I was active duty military at time and being transfered back to the states, it was easier for me to prove the wine was for personal consumption.
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Re: Buying wine in France.

by Oliver McCrum » Tue Jun 27, 2006 2:50 pm

Randy R wrote:I have never used the service so I have no idea of the cost, but I have seen a place at the entrance of Pauillac that sells many different wines and they can ship worldwide. I believe this is La maison des vins de Pauillac.
All I know is that if they claim that, they must be able to do it.


How nice it would be if the world worked like that.

I am sure they can pack it and give it to DHL, but the problem is the US customs, not the packing and shipping. I am a licenced wine importer, and there are times where even receiving samples in the mail is a major problem. People have been known to call wine 'vinegar' or 'fruit juice' in order to avoid problems (not a lie, exactly, just a timing problem).

Don't underestimate how weird the bureaucracy can be, for starters; I was once bringing back 8 or 10 different samples and the Customs agent I declared them to said I needed a label approval for each one, but 'she'd let me go this time.' The rules are ridiculous and the interpretation may be worse, in other words.
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Re: Buying wine in France.

by Oliver McCrum » Tue Jun 27, 2006 2:58 pm

Randy R wrote:
As Robin says, there is likely not a price break from buying direct, but there may be the advantage of obtaining wine that isn't widely available in the US. I'm not sure about this, but it's possible that every product needs its own paperwork in which case wines that aren't cleared for import to the US will never come in legally. Perhaps someone in the know can clarify this point.


Wine importers spend their working moments trying to choose the best wines to bring in, then do the paperwork to be able to do so. France is pretty picked over, I imagine, but there's always good wine out there.

The main thing is to be clear that it won't be easy or necessarily cheap.
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Re: Buying wine in France.

by Dave Erickson » Tue Jun 27, 2006 4:37 pm

rmurphy wrote:I am planning a trip to France in August. I"d like to buy about 400 bottles of wine from various wineries, I discover. What is the process to get them "legally" back into the country and to Kentucky in particular?


In addition to all the other discouraging words you've heard so far, let me add another: August, you say? Then be sure the wine is shipped in a refrigerated container. Oh, and don't forget to specify that the refrigeration must be on and functioning at time of shipment.

I like Robin's idea, which is to begin by asking your local retailer to introduce you to an importer, and then do whatever is necessary to get the relationship to the point where said importer will be willing to do you a rather large favor. Me, I'd begin with Bollinger and caviar, move on to an on-the-house weekend in Vegas, and if all else fails, compromising photos. :D

Seriously, I'd think long and hard before going down the road you propose. I'm not saying it can't be done, just that it will almost assuredly cost you more than it's worth, and not just in terms of money.
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Re: Buying wine in France.

by rmurphy » Tue Jun 27, 2006 9:04 pm

Thanks to all who have provided encouraging/discouraging words of advice. In a way, I'm glad it is a maze to acccomplish what I want to do. If I ever want to start a business targeting wine aficinados who want to travel to France, Spain and Italy on vacation...meet the wine makers and order some of their creation, I'd be..."da man".

The problem is, it sounds like a lot of homework between here and being..."da man".

In the meantime can anyone provide answers to the following questions? First, lets start with what I think I know.
(1) The US works on a a three tier system
- Supplier, i.e. vineyard, negociant or mama mia/pappa mia
vintner
- Wine Importer/Broker
- Distributor
- Oh yes, wine store owner (guess I forgot them)
At least this is how it was expained to me by a friend of mine who works for a large wine distributor in Kentucky.
(2) If you don't want to resell, which I don't (for now). You can apprarently work with the US Customs Office. This sounds like what Eric did when he brought in about 1,500 bottles.

Now for the questions:
(1) What is the role of a wine importer and what is the role of a wine
broker?
(2) What is the role of a wine distributor?
(3) If I go the US Customs Office route, do I still need an importer?
Or, just go through the bureacracy of dealing with Customs.
Actually, paying $1,000 for the US Customs sounds very reasonable. I'm sure that is based on the value of the wine...I guess. Oh, well that would be:
(4) Is the US Customs charge based on the purchase value of the wine or the quantity?


want to know what the roles are for the following
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Re: Buying wine in France.

by Dave Erickson » Tue Jun 27, 2006 9:30 pm

You have to pay for that kind of information. If you're really serious about this, why not get a job with an importer? That's the way to learn how to do it.
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Re: Buying wine in France.

by Robin Garr » Tue Jun 27, 2006 9:44 pm

rmurphy wrote:In the meantime can anyone provide answers to the following questions?


The problem with a lot of these questions is that they may depend on the whim of a given customs inspector on a given day.

I once brought in about 40 bottles (nothing like Eric's stash, though) of Northern Italian and Slovenian wines on a trip when I collected way too much to carry home. I had them boxed and sent back from Ljubljana on Lufthansa freight while I was flying back from Venice on Alitalia. I didn't hire a broker - the folks at Customs suggested that it wasn't really necessary, and they helped me walk through the paperwork. It took several hours, I had to go to three different offices, and the customs guy mentioned in passing that it would be his determination whether this was a commercial or personal transaction. He said he was satisfied that I was doing it for my own use but if I had just a few more bottles it would have been a tougher call.

As an individual, my duties were based on quantity, not value, but I still had to estimate value of each bottle, which was tough since most of them were offbeat Slovenian wines never intended for export and I had no idea. (I told him $10 each, and that seemed to satisfy him.)

Bottom line, customs only cost me about $25, but shipping was about $300 for 36 bottles, which was pretty outrageous, and as I said there was a lot of time wasted. Also, two nice bottles were broken in such a way as to make me strongly suspect that some baggage handlers somewhere along the way had knocked off the necks in order to enjoy a nice wine with their lunch.

As I said, I honestly wouldn't do it again.

Your friend can probably tell you a lot more about the gory details than we can. Are you comfortable telling us who he works for? I'm wondering if I know him.
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Re: Buying wine in France.

by Eric Ifune » Thu Jun 29, 2006 2:30 pm

As I mentioned before, the federal customs official was the guy who said yah or nay. Because I was stationed with the military in Italy and was being transfered back to the states, I was able to convince him the wine was for personal use. I had lived in Italy for 3 years and had all the paperwork proving this. If I hadn't had that, there was no way they were going to release the wine and would, in fact, destroy it. I may have caught a break because this was also after Sept. 11th so the customs guy may have been lenient on me. The wine was shipped by a private shipper and then sent to the customs warehouse. After I got the OK from federal customs, I had to hire a customs broker for the federal office and then work my own way through the state office. It took days to do this and the wine sat in the customs warehouse the whole time. If it were August, the wine would have boiled. The customs duties were for the volume of wine. Probably the most miserable part was I hand wrapped each bottle to minimize breakage since the shipper wouldn't guarantee. It took weeks. If I remember correctly, it cost me about $3000 for the 1500 bottles to air freight.
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Re: Buying wine in France.

by Sam Platt » Thu Jun 29, 2006 9:58 pm

As another data point I had a coworker who repatriated from France. It cost him almost $6400 to get his 1600 bottle wine collection home. He did arrange to have it shipped and stored at the customs sites under temperature controlled conditions.
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