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Glen Riddle and his assistant, Kristan Reiss, pack bottles for shipment to the United States. Riddle, a retired U.S. Air Force serviceman, runs a company that packs and ships wine collections for servicemembers moving back to the States.
Glen Riddle and his assistant, Kristan Reiss, pack bottles for shipment to the United States. Riddle, a retired U.S. Air Force serviceman, runs a company that packs and ships wine collections for servicemembers moving back to the States. (Raymond T. Conway / S&S)

Because of an Army policy change, wine enthusiasts moving to a new station might find it costly to take their wine collection with them.

Under customs regulations, shipping wine as part of household goods or through the U.S. Postal Service is illegal. In the past, the soldier or Department of the Army civilian would have to find a local commercial exporter to ship the alcohol and then be reimbursed for the entire cost of the shipment by the Army.

Under the policy change that became effective for U.S. Army Europe personnel May 6, the Army will reimburse only what it would have cost to ship the same weight of household goods with a government carrier.

For example, if a collector ships 300 pounds of wine, he or she will be compensated only for what it would have cost to ship 300 pounds of regular household goods by a government-contracted moving company.

“The new reimbursement system most likely will not cover the entire cost of the shipment,” according to a recent Installation Management Agency-Europe release.

The Air Force, however, has not changed its regulation, said Master Sgt. Angus Friend, superintendent of the personal property processing office at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

U.S. Air Forces in Europe airmen and civilians interested in shipping wines to their next duty station should stop by their personal property office first to get a list of recommended wine exporters.

“Personnel must go out and solicit at least two vendors and have the written charges broken down to include shipping, handling [and] taxes,” Friend said. “We don’t reimburse for [duty] taxes or for insurance or if they want specialized services, like chilling the wine.

“It’s basically between the servicemember and a commercial vendor.

“We are simply assisting them in being reimbursed.”

Glen Riddle, a wine dealer and handler near Wiesbaden, Germany, said the Army’s policy change is not realistic. As a recognized vendor by both the Army and Air Force, he ships wine through surface and air transportation, with smaller quantities going by air and larger shipments by surface.

“With these new rules, we’ll eliminate air transport,” said Riddle, who expects to lose 30 percent of his business because of the change in policy. “The only cheap way to send goods is by surface transportation. If you send a case of wine by air, you can send about 30 cases [by surface] for about the same cost.”

Riddle said that most Americans who use his service ship an average of seven to eight cases of wine, or about 84-96 bottles. For that amount, he charges about 700 euros to ship, which includes pickup, packing and delivery to and from the airport.

“Sooner or later, either the Air Force is going to have to go over to this new policy or the Army will have to go back to the Air Force way,” he said. “One way or the other, they can’t get away with it, it’s the same DOD.”

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