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The Ins & Outs of Shipping Wine Home

Perhaps the only things more complex than that $800 case of cabernet you just purchased are the rules and regulations about shipping it home. Because of absurd and forever fluctuating laws -- which supposedly protect the business of the country's wine distributors -- wine shipping is limited by regulations that vary in each of the 50 states. Shipping rules also vary from winery to winery.

Every single time I write this book, the rules change. This go-round the government is said to be phasing out reciprocity laws and requiring that each state be approved to ship or receive wine. Individual wineries must buy permits for each state they want to ship to, making it difficult for smaller wineries to ship to many states (so most will probably opt only for the states that brandish the most visitors or mail-order demands). Technically, only wineries with permits are allowed to ship wine; shipping stores are not supposed to ship any wine or liquor. That said, they do it anyway, so don't fret if you want to send wine.

If you do get stuck shipping illegally (not that we're recommending you do that, but believe me, it's done all the time and most shipping companies are well aware of it), you might want to package your wine in an unassuming box and head to a post office, UPS, or other shipping company outside the Wine Country area. It's less obvious that you're shipping wine from Vallejo or San Francisco than from Napa Valley.

However, you can try these companies. They are likely to help you out.

Napa Valley Shipping Communities -- The UPS Store, at 3212 Jefferson St. in the Grape Yard Shopping Center (tel. 707/259-1398), claims to pack and ship anything anywhere. Rates for a case of wine were quoted at approximately $40 for ground shipping to Los Angeles and $65 to New York.

St. Helena Mailing Center, 1241 Adams St., at Hwy. 29, St. Helena (tel. 707/963-2686), says they will pack and ship to certain states within the U.S. Rates for prewrapped shipments are around $29 per case for ground delivery to Los Angeles.

Sonoma Valley Shipping Communities -- The UPS Store, 19229 Sonoma Hwy., in Maxwell Village, Sonoma (tel. 707/935-3438), has a lot of experience with shipping wine. It claims it will ship your wine to any state. Prices vary from $21 to Los Angeles to as much as $75 to the East Coast and $187 to Hawaii and Alaska.

Napa/St. Helena

Shopaholics should make a beeline to the Napa Premium Outlets (tel. 707/226-9876; www.premiumoutlets.com), where Barneys New York can inspire even a jaded local to take the First Street exit off Hwy. 29 and brave the crowds. Unfortunately, Barneys usually carries only cheap outlet-store stuff. But you'll find multiple places to part with your money, including TSE (killer cashmere at bargain prices), Banana Republic, Calvin Klein, Nine West, Benetton, Jones New York, BCBG, more fashion shops, a few kitchenware and gift shops, a food court, and a decent (but expensive) sushi restaurant. Shops are open Monday through Thursday from 10am to 8pm, Friday and Saturday from 10am to 9pm, and Sunday from 10am to 6pm. Call for seasonal hours.

St. Helena's Main Street is the best place to go if you're suffering from serious retail withdrawal. Here you'll find trendy fashions at Pearl, 1219 Main St. (tel. 707/963-3236), Jimmy Choo shoes at Footcandy, 1239 Main St. (tel. 707/963-2040), chic pet gifts at Fideaux, 1312 Main St. (tel. 707/967-9935), custom-embroidered French linens at Jan de Luz, 1219 A Main St. (tel. 707/963-1550), estate jewelry at Patina, 1342 Main St. (tel. 707/963-5445), and European home accessories, sample holiday table settings, and free gift-wrapping at Vanderbilt and Company, 1429 Main St. (tel. 707/963-1010).

Most stores are open 10am to 5pm daily; the mall is on Main Street, between Pope and Pine streets, St. Helena.

Shopaholics should also take the sharp turn off Hwy. 29 2 miles north of downtown St. Helena to the St. Helena Premier Outlets (tel. 707/963-7282). Featured designers include Escada, Brooks Brothers, and Tumi. The stores are open daily from 10am to 6pm.

One last favorite stop: Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufacturing Company, 835 Charter Oak Ave., at the end of the road behind Tra Vigne restaurant (tel. 707/963-4173). The tiny market presses and bottles its own oils and sells them at a fraction of the price you'll pay elsewhere. In addition, it has an extensive selection of Italian cooking ingredients, imported snacks, great deals on dried mushrooms, and a picnic table in the parking lot. You'll love the age-old method for totaling the bill, which you simply must find out for yourself. Drop by any day between 8am and 5:30pm.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.