As the sun set over the low hills around Bokisch Vineyards in Lodi, California, I nibbled at a toasted slice of bread made heady and seductive with garlic and rich butter. In one hand, I sipped a delicate summer rosé wine and watched a swirl of locally-created olive oil glisten in the fading summer light.
In California’s Wine Country (or any winemaking region locals refer to as such), food and wine are forever intertwined. For most visitors to this land of grapes and olives, their suitcases return home much heavier than they were on arrival. How could you not want to bring a couple of bottles of your favorite wine home? What about that jar of lavender-scented jam or a few bottles of truffled-scented olive oil?
Wine Country offers so much more than just wine. From small-batch olive oil to cheese, jam, and more, here are five treats you should always bring home from Wine Country… and how to pack them.
1. Wine, Of Course!
While on a hosted visit to the grape-growing region of Lodi, I discovered I have a passion for Spanish wines. Tempranillo and albariño varieties thrilled my palette at several of Lodi’s 85+ wineries, and all I wanted to do was have case after case shipped to my home.
One problem, though. I live in a state where direct shipping alcohol is forbidden. Utah, Arkansas, Mississippi, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Alabama are all states where direct shipping of alcohol is illegal, and numerous other states have restrictions on direct shipments.
“The easiest way is to have the winery ship your order, so long as you live in a state where that’s allowed. However, if you take it back with you in your luggage, then you’ll need to pack it carefully,” said Nancy Beckham, CEO of the Lodi Visitors and Convention Bureau.
Nancy recommended using a product like WineSkin, which is a bubble-wrapped bottle transport bag.
“It’s almost like a bottle-shaped bubble wrap that seals at the top. You can put your wine bottle into it and then seal it, and if you do break a bottle, it won’t leak out. There are multiple companies that make those sorts of things,” she said.
Lodi, like other wine regions, also has wine-shipping companies on hand for multiple bottles. Instead of having a case shipped from one winery, you can take your different bottles from different wineries and have them shipped through companies like Elite Wine Shipping.
Of course, taking an extra suitcase just for wine to bring home is another option. The same wine shipping companies also offer packaging that holds bottles separately that you can use in your luggage.
“I have a friend who does that,” Nancy said. “He will just get that packaging from the wine shipper, put his wine in there and will check it in at the airport as a bag.”
2. Olive Oil
The wonderful Mediterranean climate of Northern California and the unique appellation in Central California make for warm, sunny days and cool, soothing nights. This climate also makes many grape-growing regions ideal for olive trees and a variety of other fruits and vegetables.
Wineries like DaVero Farms and Winery and Jordan Winery in Healdsburg, California, add small-batch olive oil to their array of products. In fact, olive oil production has been a tradition at Jordan since 1997, when the family bottled its first vintage of Jordan Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The Jordans have 16 acres dedicated to the European olive tree varieties, including leccino, frantoio, and pendolino olives from Italy.
At many wineries, you can also enjoy an olive oil tasting in addition to your traditional wine tasting. Once you’ve had that wonderful sparkling burn of true, quality olive oil on your tongue, you’ll want to take a few bottles home with you.
Shipping Olive Oil
Luckily, it’s much easier to have olive oil shipped direct to your home from the winery in question, but if you plan to bring your oil home in your luggage, treat the bottles as you would wine.
“Again, those bubble-wrap WineSkins will help protect your bottles and prevent oil from getting all over your clothes in case it does break,” Nancy said.
Would you like a little cheese with that wine? Yes, please! Many wine-producing areas in the U.S. and beyond also have amazing cheese to taste and buy, but getting all that cheesy goodness home takes a little finesse.
According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, solid cheese is fine to bring into the country as long as it doesn’t contain meat (think bacon cheddar cheese). Soft cheeses, such as Brie and mozzarella are also allowed, but liquid cheeses like ricotta are not. Keep this in mind if you’re visiting, say, Tuscany.
Luckily, Americans visiting Wine Country in California don’t need to go through customs.
“One of the visitor favorites in Lodi is Cheese Central. They bring in cheese from all over the world and have Spanish cheeses, German cheeses, and Italian cheese,” said Nancy. “You can walk in there and give them an idea of the cheeses you generally like, and they will give you some samples and introduce you to some new kinds.”
If you’re transporting cheese, wrap the food up tightly and pack it into your check-in luggage with a freezer pack, Nancy suggested.
“Obviously, you won’t use ice, but the freezable cold packs are useful,” she said. “Also, if it’s in checked luggage, the holds on airplanes tend to stay pretty cold, so you shouldn’t have a problem on shorter flights.”
4. Jams And Spreads
While sampling the award-winning wines at Lodi’s Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards, I spied little jars of jam that bloomed with flavors of rose, lavender, and jasmine, and I knew I had to bring these floral delights home with me.
Because I travel with just a carry-on, I barely squeaked by with the 3.8-ounce jars, but the TSA agent was understanding enough to let me keep my treasures. However, if you’re going to bring home specialty jams and spreads, you may have better luck packing them in checked luggage.
Shipping Jams And Spreads
Again, wrapping these jars in bubble-wrap sealable plastic containers is the smartest bet, but at the very least, wrap them in a bag and then surround them with clothes that can cushion rough handling.
Pro Tip: Asking the vendor to ship is always an option.
5. Meats And Sausages
In wine areas that have a big German and Polish influence, like Lodi or the Texas Hill Country, sausage and meats will be center stage along with your favorite red or white wine. The Lodi Sausage Co. & Meat Market, for instance, recently received six International Gold Medals for its summer sausage flavors, while Lockeford Meats and Sausage off Highway 88 is famous for its smoked sausages, jerky, beef sticks, salami, bacon, and marinated tri-tips.
Shipping Meats And Sausages
Many meat markets will be happy to ship your purchases, but packing them for a trip can be a little tricky. If you are bringing meat from an international destination, be aware that the regulations on importing meat and meat products change frequently because they are based on disease outbreaks in different areas of the world.
However, if you are flying domestically, make sure your meats are in a sealed container or shrink-wrap and packed along with a cold pack.
Invest In A Wine Suitcase
If you are a wine aficionado who loves to travel and bring wine back, investing in wine luggage may be a good investment.
“Obviously, you could use these suitcases for other alcohol or liquid or olive oil,” Nancy said. “Many have removable foam so you can also use it as a regular bag. It’s really convenient if you are traveling and you have purchased wine to bring back. They are amazing suitcases.”