New Jersey wine law: half a case is better than none

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of New Jersey? Surely, the local wine, right?!

That’s what state legislators were hoping when they voted a reform to New Jersey wine law this week. With the governor’s signature, which he has said he will provide, the state will become the 39th to allow the direct shipping from wineries to consumers. After Granholm, the 2005 Supreme Court decision that found it unconstitutional to allow in-state wineries the right to ship to consumers while out-of-state wineries were prevented, New Jersey was one of the rare states that didn’t open up shipments, but instead closed down.

The new law is certainly worth celebrating but don’t think about popping Champagne unless it is purchased at a store in NJ. The most glaring shortcoming is that the bill only legalizes shipments from wineries, not wine stores, thus disallowing free trade in over a third of the wine consumed in the US. For reasons of parity, that’s too bad. But since there are many innovative wine stores and the state has become one of the most competitive in the country, New Jersey residents are still well-served.

Anyhoo, not all wineries can ship to New Jersey under the new law, just wineries under 250,000 gallons (about 85,000 cases). These “capacity caps” are controversial and were struck down in Massachusetts (at a threshold of 30,000 gallons) as a form of discriminating against out-of-state wineries, which was what Granholm said was the big no-no. Further, wineries must purchase a license to ship, which is among the highest such fees in the country. Cathy Corison, proprietor of Corison in Napa Valley, tweeted “NJ opens up to direct wine shipment. $938 annual fee. Gee… thanks. #smallwinerytax.”

For an additional fee, licensed wineries are allowed to open more than a dozen tasting rooms for direct sales throughout the state, which also seems to advantage in-state wineries. But if an out-of-state winery opened a store, it would be a new and fascinating challenge to the three-tier system. (In this vein, Chateau Montelena just opened a “tasting room” in the Westin hotel in San Francisco; New Jersey also has many BYOB restaurants.)

So for NJ consumers, it’s a half-a-loaf law. It’s better than the status quo ante. But not ideal since buying wine from, say, NY wine stores is still illegal (and thus, I’m sure, never happens). New Jersey wineries may be the biggest beneficiaries of all as they can expand in-state (and out-of-state!) sales. Time to bone up on the terroir de Jersey Shore (although this map is much funnier).

What do you think? If you are a winery or New Jersey resident, are you excited or non-plussed by the change?

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8 Responses to “New Jersey wine law: half a case is better than none”

  1. As a member of a very small winery (4,000 annual cases), I can say we will not be paying $1,000 to ship wines to New Jersey.

    As long as every state requires their own paperwork for shipping, we will continue to sell wines through the 3-tiered system. If there was one National interstate shipping fee & form we could use, that would be worth our time. We are already filling out 20 different forms to be distributed in 20 different states, and would rather see our wines in restaurants and wine shops.

  2. Going to need a lot of Jersey friends before we’ll spring for that $938 permit!

  3. At least the camels nose is in the tent. Changing puritanism and crony capitalism takes time.

  4. Great post! I’m Matt from and I would love to have you as a guest blogger on our own blog writing about the perceptions of winery’s in South Jersey. If interested please contact me right away. Thanks, Dr. Vino!

  5. This is big news for us. It was always possible to get wine to NJ, but it was through the cumbersome 3-Tier system which took much longer and was more costly to the consumer. It was always funny when friends from NY and NJ would visit together and realize that one of them would pay over $50 more to get the same case of wine!

  6. I’m pretty sure this law is unconstitutional and will be struck down as a violation of the commerce clause. Unfortunately, first year constitutional law is so long ago I can’t remember the case on point.

  7. […] to finally legalize direct shipping from wineries is certainly worth celebrating. But, as Tyler Colman points out,  “the bill only legalizes shipments from wineries, not wine stores, thus disallowing free […]

  8. It ought also to be noted that the new NJ law does not allow any French, German, Austrian, Spanish, Italian, New Zealand or any other imported wines to be shipped to NJ residents.


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