Author: Brian Hart
We all know it when we see it. Cheap leather. Poor leather making. When we set out to make the most durable and protective carrier for wine bottle travel we not only had to find the best leather, but also a leather craftsman who would not compromise on quality.
"There's leather, and then there is great leather: Horween makes the latter." - Primer Magazine
Today there are only about 5 tanneries in the US that process hides from start to finish, and Horween is one of them–the last of the great Chicago tanneries. At one point, Chicago was the heart of leather processing in the United States as it was a rail hub and the major meatpacking center of the country. The Horween Leather company was founded there in 1905 by Isidore Horween, who learned the craft in his native Ukraine. Horween’s initial success was built upon the production of razor straps–which nearly every man in the country owned to sharpen his razor. During WWII Horween became the official leather supplier to the Marine Corps, who used it to make their infantry boots. In 1960 the company started producing leather for the NFL footballs, made in the same way today. In the 1970’s and 1980’s there was a mass exodus of tanneries out of the US to Mexico and Asia, and by 2006 it was the last tannery remaining in Chicago (at its high, there were more than 40). Global competition has been stiff, but the company has not only survived but has thrived by creating a niche with an uncompromising commitment to quality, selling high-grade and luxury leathers to shoemakers, luggage manufacturers, and major sporting goods companies.
Horween’s proprietary leather Chromexcel has been around for over 100 years, and the operation to create it is unbelievably skilled and complex–involving a series of 89 different processes over 28 days to produce the finished product. The result is a unique leather with oils and waxes that make it incredibly strong, durable, and low-maintenance. In addition, it has a cool factor that we couldn’t find in any other leather–the more it gets touched, pulled, scuffed, scratched or creased, the better it gets. Expect it. It becomes “vintage” without becoming frail, just like a well-crafted Bordeaux wine. We use the Chromexcel 6/7 ounce for the D-ring straps, carry belt, and shoulder harness of the Wine Carrier and Double Carrier Tote. The 3.5/4 ounce is used for the strap around the base of the Carrier.
Tannāre Leather — Quality Custom Leatherwork
Just because you start with an amazing piece of leather doesn’t mean that it will end up as an exceptional final product. I will never let a relative of mine cook a wagyu steak that I purchase, because I know that the end result will be a letdown. Similarly, a good hide in the hands of an average leather worker will lead to an average product. Francisco Figueroa is not your average leather maker. He is a 3rd generation leather craftsman, and grew up in a family that was known to make some of the best horse saddles in the world. He and his wife Cindy Jennings founded and operate TANNĀRE Custom Leatherwork in San Antonio, Texas. With a focus on old world craftsmanship, Francisco has caught the attention of rock stars wanting custom guitar straps to major league sports teams.
When I visited Francisco and Cindy at their factory it was clear that we made the right choice in choosing a leather maker. As his specialty is custom products, he does not have an “assembly plant” operation. Each item is worked on individually on large wooden tables, and he only has one machine per purpose. Throughout his space he has all kinds of antiques, many of them associated with the leather making industry, and it is quite apparent that he has a fondness and admiration for items that stand the test of time.
The combination of a leather from Horween and the leather crafting skills of Francisco at Tannare has allowed us to produce not only the finest wine travel bag on the market, but unquestionably the most durable and rugged as well. If you already own a Vinarmour Wine Carrier, you may expect with it what one would normally expect with a quality-leather good made by an experienced leather craftsman–years and years of use and utility, developing a beautiful patina along the way.
What Happens to Your Bag?
After the agent gently (sometimes) lays your bag on the conveyor belt, it will exit onto a common conveyor belt and at some point enter a cavernous warehouse. Think your bag is special? Think again, as there are hundreds if not thousands of other bags streaming into this place make a stop at a CTX machine. These large, expensive machine will determine if there is anything dangerous in your bag (illegal drugs, weapons, explosives, and perhaps lithium ion batteries). They WILL see a liquid in your bottle—typically not classified as “dangerous”, however this is the first place where you want to make sure you pack correctly. TIP: Do not pack electronics anywhere near your bottle, lest an agent (who I can assure you does not have a post-doctorate degree) suspect a detonation device for a Molotov Cocktail and pull your luggage off and toss it aside (Potential toss #1) for a TSA agent to search. If this happens, you must assume that the TSA agent will NOT pack the bottle back up nearly as well as you did and throw it back on the belt (potential toss #2). Your bag may also be subject to other checks including laser or xray scanners and sniffing dogs.
If your bag successfully clears this screening it will continue to the airpport’s main baggage system, where the luggage tag will be scanned, sorted (by either humans or robots) and put on a cart in the right direction to your gate, generating potential tosses #3 and #4. Check in too early? Your bag may go to “suitcase hotel” holding area (this involves potential tosses #5 and #6—possibly more, depending upon the airport). Check in late? If your luggage does make it onto the plane, don’t expect that it have been delivered with more TLC, they will be rushing to get it there. If your bag makes it on time to the gate, the ramp agents will put your bag onto a conveyor belt up to the plane (potential toss #7), and stacked with the other luggage (potential toss #8). Once on the plane, your bag is usually secure, unless there is some heavy turbulence, in which case there may be a potential toss #9. Once at your destination the ramp agents will recover your bag and place it near the cargo hold (potential toss #10), throw it onto the conveyor belt (potential toss #11), where it will be loaded onto a cart (potential toss #12) and taken to the baggage claim where it is dumped onto a conveyor belt (potential toss #13), and depending upon the airport may have anything from a gentle slide to a tumbling cartwheel crash onto the carousel (potential toss #14). Occasionally airports have carousel agents to take the bags off and set to the side (potential toss #15).
Questions & Answers
Bottle in an oversized bag? Expect potential tosses to be more violent. These agents spend all day hoisting heavy, awkward items and it is probably safe to assume that their priority during the day is to move in ways that will not throw out their backs. The integrity of your bottle is secondary.
Have a connecting flight or layover? Using the above scenario you can assume that your potential tosses may have just doubled.
Locked your bag? If you choose to do this, choose one of the many TSA-approved locks that are available. he TSA has master keys and combinations that allow agents to open them. If you use a non-TSA approved lock the will simply bolt-cut it off your luggage to have their way with your belongings.
On the TSA website it reads, “Our officers will make every attempt to repack items the way they were when presented for screening.” The website also recommends that you include written instructions for repacking—however a TSA spokesman has said, “our officers don’t have time to follow detailed instructions, and frankly they don’t know the difference between a love note that somebody put in their bag and repacking instructions.”
Packing a bottle already opened? Beware! The increase in cabin pressure often will push the cork right off that bottle. Prevent this by securing the cork with a strip of tape (duct tape preferable) over the top of the cork, then again with another strip circling around the first strip.
Now you know what obstacles face you and your bottle on their journey. If you are flying somewhere with one stop you could be facing over 20 potential tosses of your luggage. How does one pack in the face of this? The obvious answer on our end is of course to pack your bottle within a Vinarmour™ Wine Carrier. Not only is it impact resistant, but more importantly it is puncture resistant, so that even if your bottle faces a violent impact and breaks, the Kevlar and Dyneema fabrics within the Carrier will help prevent glass shards from cutting or puncturing it and will not spill or leak.
Tips For Those Without A Vinarmour Carrier
Use “tubes.” Some articles of clothing have a tube shape and may help protect against impact. Place your bottle within socks, shirt or sweater sleeves, or pant legs. The more layers the better. Best examples: “Hoodie” style pullovers, denim jean pants, calf-height gym socks.
Always travel with couple of kitchen-sized garbage bags. After inserting your bottle within your clothing “tubes”, insert inside the garbage bag and wrap excess bag over itself.
Use Neoprene totes. These can offer modest impact protection, and will offer some thermal protection to help prevent your wine from being baked in case your luggage is left in the sun for a period of time traveling in hot climates. Best technique involves putting one tote over each end, and then wrapping in a plastic garbage bag.
Avoid bubble wrap. Have you ever ordered wine and it has arrived shipped in bubble wrap? There is a reason for this—it doesn’t work for wine bottles. Early experiments in impact protection for my product verified this. You are better off wrapping in clothing (and it’s better for the environment!)
Always pack the bottle in the very middle of the luggage, never in contact with any side of the luggage or any hard personal object, with as much clothing around it as possible.
Protect your electronics in the same bag by packing them away from the bottle and wrap them inside a plastic ziplock or garbage bag.
Add a note for the TSA. Keep it short and sweet. Handwritten and signed adds a personal touch that is difficult to ignore. Seen on the left is the one I (Brian Hart) used (before Vinarmour), on heavy stock paper so I could reuse.