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How to ship your wine exports

Getting your wine from A to B – what you need to know.

Shipping your wine to new markets

So it’s time to physically move your wine from Australia to your chosen market.

Logistically, there are many steps in the shipping process, and you will need to stay on top of a number of things in order to successfully deliver your wine to your buyer. Many new exporters find the process more difficult or more costly than they expected, so be sure to factor in: 

  • market access, including tariff and non-tariff barriers
  • who is responsible for what, and who pays for what (Incoterms®) 
  • duties, taxes and export documentation
  • compliance and certifications; and
  • how your wine will get there (modes of transport).

Shipping wine: Common pitfalls

  • Not checking market access
  • Not having the right documentation before shipping
  • Using the wrong Incoterms®
  • Not understanding your obligations under the terms, or assuming the buyer does
  • Not understanding duties and taxes
  • Incorrectly packaging wine shipments and/or damaging the product
  • Failing to get freight insurance or assuming the buyer has the correct insurance
  • Failing to check transit times
  • Having unrealistic expectations on how long shipments will take
  • Using the cheapest shipping option available.

Get the paperwork right

You need to work with your buyer on taxes and duties before exporting your wine. If you don't have the right documents, or you get them wrong, both you and your buyer could face delays, losses and penalties.

Also make sure you negotiate contract terms and keep the lines of communication open with your buyer throughout the shipping process.

See Wine Australia’s export market guides to learn about individual market requirements. 

Choosing your shipping method

Depending on the market you are sending your wine to, there may be limitations on the types of transport available to you – whether it’s via sea, air or road (trucks and trains). Sea freight is significantly cheaper per carton than air freight, which means it’s a viable option for most Australian wine exporters so long as vessel schedules are maintained.

In some cases, you may need to rely on several modes of transport for a single shipment. Consider:

  • the urgency of the shipment
  • cost of shipping
  • the infrastructure, such as roads and railways at your buyer's end
  • if it's out of gauge (oversize) cargo
  • if it's direct vs transhipment cargo; and
  • if it’s bulk wine (ISO tanks or Flexitanks) or bottles packaged in your warehouse.

If your cargo discharges in intermediary ports or hubs, this can delay shipments, especially during peak seasons and periods of congestion or due to unforeseen global events. This was, for example, a key issue after COVID impacted supply and demand for space and availability of services.

Container types

There are different shipping methods to consider depending on the overall product packing sizes, cubic measurement, or total weight of your wine product to be shipped. For example, bulk exporters will likely choose a different container type than wineries shipping bottles in traditional packages.

The 20-foot shipping container (20’ container) is the most popular shipping option on the market, thanks to its size and cost-efficient way of transporting wine to buyers. Wine bottles are usually packed inside cartons, then the cartons are stacked onto pallets, wrapped up, then loaded inside the container for transport. There are also flexibags available for bulk liquid shipments, including thermal liners to limit temperature disruptions during transit. These bags can allow you to fill 20’ dry containers with up to 24,000 litres of liquid cargo.

You can also ship smaller flexis using SpaceKraft technology. These might be used for smaller volume, higher-margin opportunities such as wine in kegs for the on-premise channel.

In addition to the 20’ container, there are 40’ shipping containers (with the same design as 20’ containers) and 40’ high-cube shipping containers, which are taller and allow for an extra 10–15% of cargo inside. Be aware of the weight implications here. Overweight containers will be hit with additional taxes and charges in the USA, for example. They typically cannot exceed 1,200 9L cases, depending upon glass weight. Consult with your importer on this important point.

LCL shipping (less than a container load) can be used for smaller cargo when you don’t have enough wine export to fill a 20’ container. The goods are loaded inside a 20’ shipping container but alongside other exporters’ cargo in order to fill up the container. This reduces freight cost while still allowing you to get your product to market.

Maintaining your wine’s integrity

Consider how you will maintain the integrity of your wine during shipping. A dry cargo container may be cheaper, for example, but a refrigerated container may be necessary to ensure any fluctuations in temperature don’t cause loss of quality in the wine when it reaches its destination. Make sure you and your buyer have settled on the container type your product will be shipped in before you export.

Be aware that refrigerated reefers can be very expensive but worth it if you are exporting luxury wine. Some distributors request this method, and it can help avoid disruptions in hot countries, i.e. your product won’t be sitting unprotected on a hot wharf for an extended period of time.

Finding a freight forwarder or customs broker

Winemakers and wine exporters can use intermediaries to manage their shipping, including freight forwarders and customs brokers. They can assist with compliance, efficiency and trade obligations, as well as export documentation like Certificates of Origin.

Freight forwarder

A freight forwarder is a person or company that organises shipments for exporters. Their role is to facilitate getting your wine from the warehouse to a market, customer or final point of distribution.

In many cases, your wine will need multiple shipping modes to get from Australia to the buyer in your chosen market. This may involve trucks, trains, ships and air freight at separate stages during shipment.

Forwarders have contracts with one or more carriers to transport the goods. They don't move the goods themselves, but act as experts in the logistics network. They are experts at organising the end-to-end logistics of international shipments, and they have expertise in preparing and processing customs documents.

Customs brokers

Customs brokers help ensure your wine is appropriately classified and any relevant customs duty, taxes and charges are paid. They can also compile information and lodge declarations to customs authorities as required. 

Brokers must keep documentation and records that verify any communication made to customs – including export declarations. The relevant record retention period is five years.

You can find a freight forwarder or customers broker through the International Forwarders and Customs Brokers Association of Australia.

Free Trade Agreement shipping requirements

To take advantage of free trade agreements (FTAs), you must ensure your wine products are eligible under the FTA preference. How your wine is shipped from one country to another can also affect the validity of their originating status.

  • Direct consignment provisions: You determine your wine meets the Rules of Origin and get the relevant documentation. This may be a Certificate of Origin. You then transport your wine directly to the importer’s market. This method ensures your wine remains eligible for preferential treatment under the FTA.
  • Trans-shipment through a bonded warehouse: You determine your wine meets the Rules of Origin and get the relevant documentation. This may be a Certificate of Origin. You ship your wine through a bonded warehouse in a third market. In this market, your wine stays under customs control and does not enter the local economy. Your wine can undergo allowable processes as specified in the FTA  without affecting eligibility, which may include repacking, relabelling or storing.
  • Trans-shipment through a regional distribution hub: You determine your wine meets the Rules of Origin and get the relevant documentation. This may be a Certificate of Origin. You transport your wine to a third market, where it clears customs and enters the local economy. Your wine is then forwarded on to the destination market. By transporting this way, you may lose FTA eligibility for your goods.

Logistics considerations

Direct shipment

When using direct shipment you'll need to fill purchase orders for each overseas customer order. It's a good option if you're testing a new market or want to deal directly with consumers and retain control over your brand. However, direct shipment from Australia is not practical for some products or markets. This may be due to unreliable postal and customs clearance processes for parcels.

You will also need to consider whether direct shipment could potentially impact the integrity of your wine, compared to the product being held in a third-party warehouse in your chosen region.

Third-party logistics fulfilment warehousing

Many exporters and importers have warehouses to store their wine until they are ready to ship or sell to customers. Third-party logistics or warehousing (3PL) is the storage of wine that has arrived at its destination. The wine remains in storage until it is ready for transportation to the buyer. This may be a bulk delivery of the full shipment, or a separation of smaller units sent to the end customer. 

Most 3PL services can be integrated seamlessly into your e‑commerce platform. However, winemakers and exporters should be aware of the diverse range of cost structures. Your freight forwarder can assist with international warehousing contacts.

Get your packaging right

Wine bottles can easily get damaged during transit, so it goes without saying that your packaging needs to be strong. Consider using outer cartons to help strengthen your packaging while in transit.

Your packaging must also meet export standards. For example, you may need to use ISPM-15 accredited and stamped pallets. You can get these pallets from your freight forwarder or search the internet to find a supplier. There’s also a range of professional packing options such as full professional crating, boxing and shrink-wrapping. Slip sheets are very common, as are export pallets which come in specific sizes.

Make sure you know the packaging requirements of your chosen destination, and ensure all packaging meets import requirements. Many countries have strict biosecurity controls for certain packaging types (e.g. timber and straw), and this can be very expensive to fix when your wine has arrived and is subject to storage as well as treatment or repacking under bond.

If you are packing your own wine bottles or shipping bulk wine, be careful when stacking pallets to reduce damage to the product. Ask your freight forwarder for advice and tips.

Freight insurance

Marine transit insurance

Marine cargo, or cargo and transit insurance, protects against loss, damage or non-delivery of your wine while in transit. Coverage may include the transport of goods within Australia,

into and out of Australia, or in a country outside of Australia to another country outside of Australia.

You can choose to have marine transit policies provided on an annual or single shipment basis. An annual policy covers all your shipments for an agreed amount based on your wine product. Conversely, a single transit policy is ideal for unique, major, or one-off shipments.

Goods in transit insurance

Goods in transit insurance cover damage to property caused by fire, theft, sinking, capsizing or grounding. It may also cover other events that result in the non-delivery of cargo. Damage caused in other circumstances may need extra coverage.

You can extend the policy to cover warehouses where you store your wine. This applies in the period between the loading and unloading of your shipment. Check with your freight forwarder to see if they have authorisation to provide this type of insurance.

Delays, transit times and unexpected costs

There are many reasons for delays, most of which will be out of your control. It's very common for there to be equipment or staff shortages, as well as congestion at departure and arrival ports. Make sure you book your freight early so you have a buffer. Don't assume that the estimated time of arrival (ETA) or estimated time of delivery (ETD) is accurate. 

You should also work out the time it will take to get your wine to your buyer. This helps when planning your production and shipping times in line with your buyer's deadlines. You may need to meet specific delivery or transshipment slots to avoid fines or delays.

Finally, the cause of many delays is the addition of unexpected fees, most commonly demurrage and detention charges. These are the result of storage costs on containers awaiting collection from the port or return to depot. Most ports offer around three to five free days of storage, but they will incur fees if they remain at the port for longer.

  • Demurrage: Shipping lines allow a certain number of days for the container to be removed from the port or terminal. If you exceed the number of free days, the shipping line applies a penalty charge to the buyer. Talk to your freight forwarder about the expected turnaround time for unpack and de-hire of your containers. They may be able to negotiate extended detention-free periods before making a booking. Shipping lines will rarely negotiate detention post-departure.
  • Detention: After your buyer has unpacked the container, it needs to go back to the nominated depot. If it isn't collected and returned within the time allowed by the shipping lines, the buyer receives an additional fee. It is important to ensure the container is fully cleaned and free from rubbish and residue before sealing for de-hire. The container yards will levy fees for container cleaning.

While this may seem like a lot to consider, remember you can easily reduce the number of parties involved in your supply chain including finding one end-to-end service. But by understanding everything that’s involved in the shipping process, you’re in a better position to get started. 

Ports of departure

Most wine being exported from Australia leaves from either Adelaide or Melbourne ports. It is much more challenging to ship out of Sydney or Fremantle, unless you are shipping full containers.

If you are a smaller producer in NSW or WA, you may need to factor in the cost of shipping your stock to Melbourne or Adelaide.

This content is restricted to wine exporters and levy-payers. Some reports are available for purchase to non-levy payers/exporters.

Levy payers/exporters
Non-levy payers/exporters
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This content is restricted to wine exporters and levy-payers. Some reports are available for purchase to non-levy payers/exporters.