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New Jersey Wine Sale Law Faces Uncertainty in Assembly

Posted on  | December 20, 2011   Bookmark and Share
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Although the state Senate approved legislation that would open New Jersey to both in-state and out-of-state winemakers to direct shipments to consumers and open markets for their products, the Assembly needs to act within the next three weeks for the measure to go to the governor’s desk.

And local Assemblyman Gary Chiusano said, “There’s probably a less than 50% chance it will get posted” by the Jan. 9 deadline for this session of the state Legislature. Any pending legislation that isn’t passed by both houses on or before that date must be reintroduced for the next session, which begins Jan. 10 when members of both houses are sworn in.

State Sen. Steve Oroho, whose district includes three vineyards in Sussex County and one in Warren County, said he voted in favor of the bill Thursday because “we’re talking pretty small amounts, small businesses. It goes back to keeping the farmer on the farm.”

The bill had an interesting array of supporters in the state Senate with both the majority leader, and chief sponsor, Democrat Stephen Sweeney, as well as the minority leader, Republican Thomas H. Kean Jr., voting in favor.

Oroho said there was no party stance on the bill and “everybody was on their own. There were a lot of reasons people voted for it and a lot of reasons people voted against it.”

The senate vote was 23-13 with four not voting.

Chiusano said he hasn’t made up his mind about which way to vote on the bill and believes that the measure hasn’t been posted because the bill’s chief Assembly sponsors haven’t lined up enough “yes” votes.

Two of the Assembly’s sponsors are Celeste Riley and John Burzichelli, fellow Democrats from Sweeney’s 3rd Legislative District, which includes parts of Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem counties and has several vineyards.

The bills are a response to federal court cases that have ruled against current New Jersey law, which prohibits out-of-state wineries from operating shops in New Jersey or shipping to New Jersey residents.

Chiusano said the courts are ready to impose an “everybody in the pool or everybody out of the pool” stance.

“The problem I have with it is that while our wineries could ship out-of-state, this would allow others to ship into New Jersey,” he said.

The bill sets up a special category of vineyard, which would apply to out-of-state wineries as well, that produces less than 250,000 gallons of wine and, for a license fee of less than $1,000, could operate up to 18 sales rooms across the state from which it could sell its own product. The new class could also sell directly to a retailer, such as a licensed liquor store, or to a wholesaler. The winery could also ship up to 12 cases to any customer for personal consumption.

The law does change around the numbers of sales rooms a winery can operate off-premises and eliminates the ability to operate joint sales rooms with other wineries.

There would be a separate fee for each sales room, up to a maximum of 19.

The Garden State Wine Growers Association supports the bill and thanked Sweeney and “the 22 other senators who understand the vital and critical nature of the bill.”

Wine-growing in New Jersey dates to Colonial times. Atlantic County is site of one of the oldest, continuously operated wineries in the United States.

In 2009, the state’s 33 wineries in 11 counties produced about 1.7 million gallons of wine.

Although dwarfed by California’s production of more than 638 million gallons of wine a year, New Jersey still ranks seventh on the list of wine-growing states.

Source: New Jersey Herald


Dec 20, 2011


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