There will be travel again. With any luck, sooner than we think—a circumstance which, for an oenotourist like me, raises again the enduring issue. Every summer, as we pack for trips to France, Italy, or even Oregon, the question abides: how are we getting wine home?
Weeks before we fly, the discussions start. And while we are strategizing over who has better airline status, with more checked bag allowances, I can never shake a terrible vision of me standing at the baggage carousel, watching my battered styrofoam-stuffed shipping box tumble out of the gaping luggage maw, leaking a suspicious-looking red liquid. Then me trying to wrestle that wine-soaked box onto a baggage cart, leaving the stain smeared all over the luggage belt, circulating again and again. The aroma of humiliation with distant notes of regret.
Wine travelers love to share wine-checking hacks, from insulated, padded box covers to cart handle attachments. Insulated bags can make great solutions for wine reps on a “drag-the-bag” junket, but they’re often impractical for the wineaux spending two weeks in Burgundy or Bordeaux. Wine shipping boxes are just too big to carry and impossible to wrestle on and off trains or into rental cars. Plus, my well-traveled father always made me follow one rule: Never pack more than you, yourself, can carry. Trust me, when you’re traveling with friends who scatter as soon as their luggage is off the “Priority Status” conveyer belt, it’s a good rule to follow.
But into all of our lives came the Vin Garde Valise. Introduced in 2014, this clam-shell, hard-sided bag with foam inserts looks more like a custom-designed electronics case than a wine carrier. For the VGV Grande, the 12-bottle carrier, you can pack 6 bottles per side for a full case of 750ml bottles. Or you can change the inserts to accommodate 6 magnums. The standard inserts can fit Champagne bottles with cages, tall Riesling bottles, and even Bordeaux bottles with shoulders. Most importantly, the bag is light, designed to come in right at or just under the international weight limit for most baggage when fully packed with wine. (Usually 50 lbs or 23 kgs.)
The inserts are removable so you can pack for a weekend event with your clothes on one side and wine bottles on the other. This year, the company introduced a “Do It Yourself” insert with individual foam cubes which you can remove to customize shapes for whiskey or other spirits bottles. (I’m imagining a trip to Scotland already!)
The Grande is going to set you back $350, well worth it for the ease of use. The medium size case, the Petite ($300), handles 8 bottles, and the Piccolo ($249), carry-on size, accommodates 5 standard 750 bottles. (And as they note, since it’s a carry on, it would be great for Duty Free purchases. Brilliant!)
My own VGV, the Grande, has seen five years of hard international service and is still in good condition—wheels, case, and inserts have handled every bottle possible with the exception of a few extra tall bottles from Alsace. The all-direction spinners make it a dream for wheeling through airports and TGV stations and it fits anywhere a large suitcase would go.
These bags come with durable telescoping handles and luggage handles on the side and can be fitted with TSA-compliant locks. Pricey? Maybe, but well worth it for easily breezing through baggage check or customs. And for a near-guarantee that when the carousel comes around, there will be no visible evidence of what’s inside.