Big wineries delivering in NJ? Legislature mulls the idea
State lawmakers are continuing another long look at making changes to how wines are sold in New Jersey.
Among the issues being mulled by the Assembly are whether to allow large wineries to directly ship to New Jersey consumers, as can be done currently by small wineries, and establishing a framework for a wine consultant permit – in a sense, people who conduct Tupperware parties for wine.
Both were the subject of deep dives in committee hearings in October that haven’t gotten any formal action since.
In New Jersey, only wineries that produce fewer than 250,000 gallons a year — or about 106,000 cases — can ship direct to consumers. Even that has only been allowed since 2012.
Terri Beirne, Eastern counsel for the Wine Institute, the advocacy organization for the California wine industry, said about 400 small wineries are registered to directly ship in New Jersey – far fewer than the 1,000 in Pennsylvania and over 2,000 in New York.
“This is an unusual limitation on wine shipping in New Jersey that was put in to address the concerns, and now here we are eight years later, and the concerns have not been realized,” Beirne said.
Paul Santelle, executive director of the New Jersey Liquor Store Alliance, said it would be unfair to let large wineries ship each consumer up to 12 cases a year through a $938 license when liquor licenses cost an average of $350,000.
“A1943 will only lead to more unemployment, more business failures as well as far less collection of budget-sensitive state alcohol excise taxes,” Santelle said.
Assemblyman Joe Danielsen, D-Somerset, said he cares about wineries but wants to protect small businesses in New Jersey.
“So we’re going to go carefully and prayerfully on whatever changes to the alcohol industry in New Jersey,” Danielsen said.
The wine consultant permit legislation was endorsed by one committee, with the expectation that significant changes to the bill would follow.
Jeff Warsh, a lobbyist representing bars, taverns and wholesalers, said that for $25, somebody could become an out-of-state winery salesperson, practically exempt from state enforcement.
“They don’t want the bricks and mortar. They don’t want the skin in the game. They want to basically sell in New Jersey, ship their wine from California and leave no footprint,” Warsh said.
Rick Libby, president of Traveling Vineyard, said its wine guides were greenlighted in New Jersey in 2013 but the Murphy administration won’t continue the program unless it gets a more official structure.
“We think it’s time for that to change, and New Jersey already let the horse out of the barn when you approved the direct shipping legislation for wineries,” Libby said.
Assemblyman Tom Giblin, D-Essex, said the middle of a pandemic is a bad moment to disrupt an already struggling industry.
“Bars, restaurants, liquor stores, they’re all hurting cowboys, so to speak,” Giblin said. “And to put this in effect at this time, I think it’s ill-timed.”
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.