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Sending wine? Mail, terrorists, other states make it hard

Weekend!Food: In Season
by: JIM CLARK, Shipping and transporting wine for the holidays can prove frustrating if not outright difficult.

Local products make great gifts. This holiday season, you can send blackberrry honey to your brother in Kentucky, and Hood River pears to your cousin in Wisconsin. Just don't try to send a bottle of pinot noir to your aunt in Georgia - that would be a felony.

Transporting wine and other alcoholic beverages from one place to another is a complicated proposition. Shipping from state to state is governed by a complex web of laws, and recent airline regulations mean that simply taking a bottle of wine along with you isn't easy, either.

Each state has its own rules for the shipping of alcohol, and some are extremely rigid. The first thing you should know is that the U.S. Postal Service will not ship alcohol of any kind. The second is that in Oregon, a private citizen cannot legally send alcohol through a shipping service - you must have a licensed merchant send it for you.

Dan Beekley, an owner of Square Deal Wine (2321 N.W. Thurman St.) ships wine for customers, he says, 'constantly.' Occasionally someone will ask him to ship wine that they've purchased somewhere else, which he will do for a fee.

Ice bucket not included

Beekley is a strong believer in keeping wine at the proper temperature - his shop is maintained at a steady 58 degrees - but once wine is in the hands of FedEx, he says, 'Our fanaticism has to be checked at the door.'

It's extremely important, Beekley says, that someone be physically present at the shipping address to sign for the wine. Packages containing alcohol must be signed for, and the recipient must be 21 or older.

And that worries Beekley - if the package has to sit in trucks and warehouses, the possibility of heat damage increases, depending on the weather at the point of arrival. You don't need to worry as much if you're shipping within the Northwest; what most of us call 'chilly,' he calls 'cellar temperature.'

On the bright side, shipping wine is fairly inexpensive, Beekley says. If you want to make sure the wine gets there by Christmas, ship it by Dec. 13.

You can send a case to the East Coast for around $27 to $30, or one bottle for around $7, so it's certainly worthwhile if you want that special wine to be there for the family feast in Phoenix or Chicago.

Unfortunately, if the family feast is in, say, Maine or Montana, you're out of luck. Eighteen states don't allow direct shipping of wine at all, and others have a variety of restrictions.

It seems ridiculous in this age when one can buy just about anything, and send it just about anywhere, with a few mouse clicks, but some states simply won't allow alcohol to be shipped to private citizens. There is a movement afoot to change these laws, with lawsuits pending in several states. (See www.freethegrapes.org for information.)

Packing loot in luggage

For now, if you want to give a rare bottle of wine to a special friend in Arkansas, you'll have to take it there yourself. And, due to tightened airport security, wine can't be carried onto a plane by a passenger. Along with shampoo and mouthwash, wine must be packed in your checked luggage.

'Wrap it extremely well,' advises Tina Burke, who is a Portland Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman. 'There are a lot of people who handle the luggage,' she warns, and your suitcase could end up on the bottom of a pretty big pile. If you're changing planes, your bags are in for even more rough handling.

Beekley recommends wrapping a bottle in your clothes and positioning it in the center of your suitcase. If you transport wine often, you might want to invest in a special piece of luggage that is insulated and padded to protect the bottle. The fancier models also are equipped with wheels.

The restrictions on liquids will continue throughout the holiday season, and into the foreseeable future. 'We have not heard of any changes on the horizon,' Burke says.

If packing (or planning ahead) isn't your forte, there is a more convenient route. Wine is sold on the secured side of Portland International Airport in the Made in Oregon store on Concourse D, which is accessible from all other concourses. Liquids purchased here may be legally carried with you onto the plane.

For an overview of what's available at Made in Oregon, check www.madeinoregon.com, which shows 'a representation of our best sellers' according to store general manager Candace Vincent.

Additional varieties in the $12 to $60 range are available for the holidays. The limitation here, of course, is that every wine in stock is from Oregon. But why else would they have invited an Oregonian for dinner?

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