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Jersey Direct Shipping: More Drama Than Reality TV

About a year ago, overwhelmed by the spectacle and hairspray, I had to cut myself off from New Jersey-based reality television. Between “Jersey Shore,” “Jerseylicious,” and “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” I started developing unfair feelings toward my neighbor across the Hudson. To let Snooki sully the birthplace of Bon Jovi and the first American brewery – incidentally, two of the key components to my finest Karaoke memories – was like letting Franzia dictate the quality of my rosé. Simply put: not okay.

So when I read that New Jersey’s Senate approved bill AB 3821, which would help boutique New Jersey wineries preserve and expand their direct sales channels, I was prepared to defend l’Dirty Jerz.

This bill would allow for wineries, both in and out of Jersey, to ship directly to New Jersey consumers. It would preserve Jersey wineries’ remote tasting rooms, which are the only source of sales for many of them. And it would allow these wineries to sell their products to as many as 20 retail outlets, rather than just six.

Sure, New Jersey is (un)fashionably late to the 38-state direct-shipping party, but better now than never. New Jersey’s boutique wineries would be able to sell more bottles, and consumers would have more choice. Sounds like a win-win for all, right?

Eh, not so much. See, the one cast of characters more dramatic than the state’s caricaturized “stars” of reality TV are its politicians. Yeah, I said it. I’m not here to make friends. Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, who actually introduced the original bill, wouldn’t approve the revisions made in the Senate last Friday because he opposes direct shipping. Say it ain’t so, Joe!

Why? Well, we’ve heard this hackneyed argument before. Connecting wineries and consumers directly will hurt wholesalers (aka the middle man or, you know, special interests), killing jobs and reducing tax revenue. The mean ol’ behemoth wineries from states like California will put the local Jersey operations out of business. Think “You’ve Got Mail,” but without all the heartwarming parts. Now, while I like my politicians thinking ahead, I like them actually thinking.

Fact is, this isn’t about protecting local Jersey wineries at all. They’re more likely to be crushed by out-of-state producers if they are only able to compete in wine stores.

And like all good reality TV, the plot thickens. It’s looking likely that New Jersey wineries will lose those remote tasting rooms anyway. If another bill legitimizing remote tasting rooms for New Jersey wineries isn’t passed this week, their only hope is that the Third Circuit will reverse its decision when it reconsiders the case on July 18. That’s unlikely, which means these wineries will have to shutter a major source of sales.

Rather than opening up free-market competition while preserving existing sales channels, New Jersey’s assembly is “protecting” its state’s wineries by forcing them to go head-to-head with big brands on store shelves.

And I thought reality TV didn’t make sense. Where’s the remote?

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