I spent last Friday volunteering at Sharrott Winery in Winslow, N.J., bottling Pinot Grigio. It was a fun afternoon of light physical labor, chatting with other volunteers, enjoying a little wine, and spending time discussing what is going on in the world of New Jersey wine.

 

Many New Jersey wineries are doing well. After a couple of decades of trial and error, experimenting, and collaboration among winemakers, the state is producing some fine wines. Wines from Sharrott, for example, are taking top honors in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. Sharrott is not the only winery in the state bringing home awards like this.

Unfortunately, much of country doesn’t know about New Jersey wines, in part because New Jersey wineries aren’t allowed to ship to private residences — in or out of state. Unless there is a wine or liquor store in another state that is willing to stock New Jersey wines (and there are few that are), the state’s wines are not represented around the country.

Ninety percent of New Jersey wine sales happen in the individual tasting rooms of each winery. However, those tasting rooms may soon get shut down.

The original problem

I first mentioned New Jersey’s prohibitive shipping laws last spring during Grape Liberation Month. At that time, I was optimistic since the state Senate had passed a bill that would allow direct shipping to and from the state. The bill moved on to the state Assembly, and the Assembly is sitting on it. As it now stands, direct shipping is still against the law.

Without direct shipping to and from the state, New Jersey wineries can flourish within the state, but they won’t have the opportunity to really thrive.

The new and potentially dire problem

In the meantime, a federal appeals court ruled that New Jersey’s shipping laws as they stand are unconstitutional because they discriminate against wineries from other states. New Jersey wineries have the opportunity to sell directly to the state’s residents through their wine tasting rooms, but wineries in other states don’t have the opportunity to sell directly to New Jersey residents.

If I’m reading all the sources correctly, there seem to be three possible solutions to this problem.

  1. Allow direct shipping to private residences in New Jersey from out of state wineries (and in state wineries) so that out of state wineries have access to sell directly to the state’s residents.
  2. Allow out-of-state wineries to open tasting room storefronts in New Jersey.
  3. Close down the New Jersey winery tasting rooms so no one but the liquor stores have access to New Jersey customers. 
Solution number one is the most desirable for the state’s wineries. A combination of the first two solutions would work, also. I wouldn’t mind access to tasting rooms from other state’s small wineries in my home state. Solution number three would kill the New Jersey wine business.

Liquor retailers and distributors are fighting for solution number three. They don’t want anyone else being able to turn a profit from alcohol sales. They try to cover their greed by saying they’re concerned about underage kids having access to mail order alcohol. They also hide behind a concern for the state losing tax revenue.

In the end, they don’t want the residents of New Jersey to be able to deal directly with any winery because they won’t make any money from that. They want to keep New Jersey residents shopping at their retail stores where they determine what goes on the shelves so they can reap all the profit.

The lawmakers in New Jersey can’t allow this to happen. They must allow the New Jersey wineries to continue the good work they are doing. That can only happen if direct sales to customers at tasting rooms are allowed to continue. Additionally, passing a law that allows in and out of state direct shipping will allow those wineries to thrive.

What you can do

It would be a shame if the largest growing agricultural movement in the Garden State gets shut down because of the greed of some business people.

The Garden State Wine Grower’s Association has hired legal representation and is working hard to fight for direct shipping and against the closing of the winery tasting rooms. New Jersey residents can help them.

If you live in New Jersey, please contact your representatives and let them know that you want them to act in the best interest of New Jersey wineries. Ask them to pass Assembly Bill A-1702 that has been languishing in the Assembly since last spring. Tell them that you want New Jersey wineries to thrive, and that you want those wineries to be able to ship their wines anywhere in the state and the country. Tell them that you don’t want the wineries to fail and the sustainably farmed land that they are on to be sold to developers that will ravish preserved ecosystems.

If you don’t live in New Jersey, but you do live in one of the other 12 states that don’t allow direct shipping either, keep an eye on what happens in New Jersey. If New Jersey choses to shut down direct sales from tasting rooms, other states could follow in its footsteps.

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