Importer,Wine,Wine Writer

Reefer? Did someone say, “Reefer?”

Thinking about importing?

Then “reefer” isn’t about madness; it’s about “refrigerated containers that control temperature for the contents of the container, via a generator for the duration of the voyage.” – from Deborah Gray of Blue Stone Wine Solutions, in her book entitled, How to Import Wine ~ An Insider’s Guide.

I’ve had a few import brands, and honestly I wish this book had been available a long time ago for me. Deborah M. Gray, and Australian native, founded her first wine importing company in 1992, the same year I was preparing for a move from Maine to California… She gave herself the assignment of importing a collection of iconic, family owned wineries from Australia. This was a time when Americans were just beginning to discover wines from that region of the world. We’ve both traveled to 40 of our 50 states (that’s an interesting parallel for me, along with the big moves we both have had at the same time). She’s worked with wholesalers… been there, done that, too… both of us have done the festivals (why didn’t our paths cross?)… and she’s been on radio and television. That’s where she’s eclipsed me; the TV thing.

Furthermore, her importing escapes have really eclipsed my knowledge.

If you’re thinking about importing, or if you’re the least bit curious about this part of the wine business, read on.

What’s in that container, Ms. Importer?

I’m choosing to focus on one chapter her “Container” one. It’s the one I found the most tedious, just to prove the point that if you’re going into importing, don’t go it alone. It’s intensely confusing for options, so find yourself a guide, which this book will serve, if you have no one else. Finding someone in the business, too, is not a bad idea at all.

My Metaphor: If you don’t know how to swim,why would you jump in the deep end, unless you have a death wish?

In this chapter below, for instance, Deborah has addressed everything from a fundamental and common sense perspective . She tells you in a very insightful manner how this very complex system of doing business works. Things I couldn’t even begin to imagine, beyond the boat traveling over the water. I knew they did, but I had no idea about the intricacies of packing your wine. It’s your decisions, not the shipping company that will make or break your wine in transit (in so many ways).

I believe that working with a wholesaler is a cakewalk as compared to working with international people in the importer capacity. I’d dare say that only the brave of heart dare to tread these perilous waters.

In terms of this book for you importer wannabes, Deborah M. Gray’s book is your life line.

I highly recommend this book, and wish – as I’ve said – I wish that I had been able to read this book about three years ago. It would have made a huge difference for not only me, but also for the others I was trying to help at the time.

Chapter 6 ~ Containers, Page 73 

“Whether you are the corporate executive retiree with a golden parachute working for an investment or the self-professed wine geek who has scraped together the funds to start the business of your dreams, there is value in learning about ways in which you can maximize your investments.”

For Containers, Deborah tells you all you need to know (and even more) about the following, she’s that thorough:

  • Sizes and weights
  • Pallets
  • Reefers vs. Dry vs. Blanket
  • CIF vs. FOB
  • Your Own Container (FCL)
  • Palelts vs. Stuffing
  • Consolidation Through Shipping Company (LCL)
  • Controlled Consolidation (an FCL hybrid)

Lost yet?

Plus more options

  • Freight Forwarded
  • Customs Brokers

At the end of most chapters, Deborah offers “My Story” in a text box, where she shares her experiential insights. Ah, if we could all just learn from others, and save most of those mistakes for another lifetime. Her intent is to keep you from making her rookie mistakes… pretty darn nice of her, if you ask me. Just as I made my own mistakes with one of my import companies, this book would have saved me a lot from copious spinning of my wheels.

If you’re going to go it alone, go for it. Run around with a bow and arrows, and try to find your target… And, good luck with that.

Or, if you take the time to read and study this book, you’ve armed yourself with a bow, arrows, and clear sight to your target. Let ‘er rip for a bull’s eye, because you took the time to focus, build strength into it, and you stayed focused the whole time.

I’ve seen it both ways, and I’ll tell you that someone who thinks the wine business is all about glamor, missed this book… and probably has “ended up on a slow boat to China,” as my mother used to say.

I’m not giving away the rest of her book. You’ve got do to your own homework, but this book makes me want to find another import band to represent and start again telling that story…


Distributed by the Wine Appreciation Guild, you can purchase this book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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11 Responses to “Reefer? Did someone say, “Reefer?””

  1. Greetings Jo! I too read this book the minute I heard about it (I think on your blog). I was very impressed with the clarity and generosity of information. And I would have liked reading this BEFORE I spent six years in distribution. But having said that we brought in almost a dozen containers a year from all over the world and really never had an issue (a couple of funny stories but not linked to the actual logistics). The reason: the incredible people working as freight forwarders and brokers. We happened to work with Haplag-Lloyd and initially with a group out of Bilboa. Everything was explained in detail and they literally held our hands through the first few until we knew the ropes. Same with the broker that we used. They taught us everything!

    I still have the bolt from the very first container on my desk….as both a paper weight and a reminder.

  2. Deborah Gray says:

    First of all, Jo, what an incredible review for which I thank you very very much! I was quite captivated with my own book after reading it! LOL

    And, Eugenia, what a great experience with freight forwarders and a further resource for others in the same situation. I agree that everyone should deal with freight forwarders, unless they’ve had loads of shipping company experience, or worked for an importer prior to starting on their own and feel comfortable with taking it on. In my opinion, it not only gives you peace of mind, but also generally saves you money because they are so familiar with rates and lines and know who they want to work with and why. Continued success in your business. (And thanks for buying my book.)

  3. Jo Diaz says:

    Yes, Eugenia, I did first write that I had received Deborah’s book and would be reviewing… looking forward to it, actually.

    Love your paper weight!

  4. Jo Diaz says:


    Thanks for enjoying how I handled it. After this week goes away, I’ll also be adding your book’s name to the title for SEO purposes. Sorry to be so sneaky with the title for right now. I had my editorial reason. 😉

  5. I’ve been going at it alone, jumping straight into the deep end and I haven’t drowned.. yet!

    But, after reading your excellent review, I am going to have to pick this book up for myself. Maybe I can learn a few tips that will help us save money and bring great Champagne to the people of the USA at more affordable prices?!

    I will cheers to that, and I’m off to buy the book.

    Thanks, Jo

  6. Jo Diaz says:

    You’ll l-o-v-e it, Bryan.

  7. […] Thinking about importing? Then “reefer” isn’t about madness; it’s about “refrigerated containers that control temperature for the contents of the container, via a generator for the duration of the voyage.” – from Deborah Gray of Blue Stone Wine Solutions, in her book entitled, How to Import Wine ~ An Insider’s Guide. I’ve had a few […] Wine Blog […]

  8. I ordered this for my Kindle immediately. Thanks so much. After watching so many missteps at all levels by companies I work/worked with, this will be an very interesting addition to my MW studies.
    Thanks for the tip, and your fantastic blog.

  9. Jo Diaz says:


    My pleasure! (Miss you.)

  10. […] I’d love to give you a plug and an “Importer” link. Here’s my story about you:  Reefer, Did Someone Say Reefer? Yup, I couldn’t resist using the […]

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