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A Bill Grows in Jersey

Yesterday was a good one in my home state of New Jersey. No, they didn’t find Jon Corzine’s missing money. Or Jimmy Hoffa’s body. But the state senate did pass S3712, a bill that paves the turnpike toward Garden State life with less-restrictive wine-shipping laws. A similar bill needs to pass the Assembly, then gain Gov. Chris Christie’s signature before New Jersey wine lovers can legally buy wine directly from in- and out-of-state wine producers, and have the bottles shipped to their doorsteps.

If you’re a New Jersey resident, don’t start popping corks just yet – stay on top of these developments, and remain in touch with your representatives to make sure the bill becomes law. Fortunately, with elected officials writing informed opinion pieces in local media about the benefits to local  and tax revenue, there’s reason to be optimistic. There are, however, a couple cautionary notes….

One potential pitfall exists in that the bill contains a volume cap: Wineries must produce less than 250,000 gallons per year to qualify for shipping licenses. In most other states that have passed shipping bills with volume caps, the laws were either challenged in court or challenged and overturned, as the volume caps are seen – legally – as protectionist for the local wineries. When there’s a lawsuit, the legislative wrangling can start all over again, from the very beginning – and it can drag on for years.

The good news is that 250,000 gallons is a pretty hefty amount: Cocktail-napkin math rounds this out to roughly 100,000 cases per year. (And some have interpreted the bill as meaning 100,000 cases per brand per year, so a big California wine company that operates, say, three different wineries, two of which produce more than 100,000 cases and one that produces less, will be able to sell and ship bottles to New Jersey customers from the third winery.) Historically, volume caps have been much lower; New Jersey’s is high enough that, even if this portion of the bill isn’t challenged in court, it shouldn’t pose too much of a problem for New Jersey wine lovers wanting access to small-production, high-quality wines. Still, considering how much legal trouble volume caps have caused in other states, don’t expect this one to go unnoticed forever.

Nevertheless, right now things are looking good for New Jersey wine lovers as well as New Jersey wineries. But until the moment you can actually click the ‘Order’ button and the bottles are delivered from Healdsburg to Hackensack, fair, open and economically beneficial wine shipping is still just a hope, not a reality.

If you live in New Jersey, find your legislators here.