Most of the country had their eyes on Iowa early this week and many have now turned to New Hampshire for the next Republican primary. I’ve been paying attention too, but this week my main focus has been on New Jersey politics.
Yesterday, a committee in the State Assembly heard A-4436, a bill that would, among other things, allow wineries of a certain size to ship directly to New Jersey residences. It would also allow N.J. wineries to engage in direct shipping. This is not the first time a bill like this has reached the Assembly in committee, but in the past it has never made it out of committee.
It finally made it out of committee yesterday, and on Monday, Jan. 9, 2012, the bill will be put to a vote in the Assembly. The Senate has already passed its version of the bill. If the Assembly passes A-4436, New Jersey will become the 39th state to allow direct shipping of wine.
What’s at stake if the bill doesn’t pass? New Jersey state wineries could go out of business. As I’ve explained in the past, a federal appeals court has ruled that N.J.’s shipping laws are unconstitutional because they discriminate against wineries from other states. Because in-state wineries can have tasting rooms and direct access to N.J. consumers, but out-of-state wineries cannot, it’s considered unfair. So N.J. was told fix the problem. Allowing shipping directly to residences from wineries would fix the problem.
If N.J. doesn’t come up with a viable solution, a federal court will decide what will happen, and one of the options would be to close the tasting rooms at N.J. wineries. That could be the end for most of the state’s wineries because they sell the majority of their wine through their tasting rooms.
So I’m asking anyone from N.J. who is reading this, to please contact your district representatives in the Assembly before Monday. One easy way to do this is to go to Free the Grapes, where you can easily input your ZIP code and be directed to a letter to sign that will be emailed directly to your representatives. It takes less than five minutes, but it’s such an important five minutes. Our representatives need to know that there is a demand for N.J. wineries to remain open and be given the opportunity to thrive.
If you don’t live in N.J., but you live in one of the other states that doesn’t allow direct shipping, this could affect you, too. If the federal court closes down the tasting rooms or makes some other ruling that negatively affects N.J.’s wineries, there will be precedent for other states to take similar action.
If you live out of state, but you have friends or relatives who live in New Jersey, I ask you to please pass this information along and ask them to contact their representatives.