On May 1, 2012, a law took effect that will allow New Jersey farmers and wineries to skip wholesalers and sell directly to retailers and consumers. The new law grants similar rights to out-of-state wineries and finally cleared the way for the Garden State to begin issuing new winery licenses to growers. While local business and political leaders are hoping the relaxed regulations will encourage further investment in the state’s wine industry, producers, retailers, and wine lovers alike are cheering the increased access to locally-grown wines ahead of the summer tourism season.
The new law, which we reviewed here in January, resolved the constitutional dispute at the heart of the Third Circuit’s decision in Freeman v. Corzine. That decision invalidated an earlier law, passed in 2010, that granted the same direct-to-retailer-and-consumer privileges to New Jersey growers, but at the expense of out-of-state wineries. The new licenses created by the law fall into two categories: (1) a Plenary Winery License, available for $938 and (2) a Farm Winery License (which limits production to “not more than 50,000 gallons per year”), available for between $63 and $375 depending on production volume. Both licenses allow growers that produce “not more than 250,000 gallons per year” to distribute wine directly to retailers for an additional fee. Retail shipping fees are graduated depending on the amount of wine produced each year, and range from $100 to $1,000. In addition, growers may ship up to twelve cases of wine per year, directly to any individual consumer located anywhere inside or outside New Jersey. Finally, growers may also open up to 15 “salesrooms” throughout the state for sampling on the premises and for retail sale and consumption on and off the premises. The fee for each salesroom is $250.
As a result of these changes, New Jersey’s burgeoning wine industry – largely based in South Jersey – has its eyes set on developing a premier wine destination on the East Coast. At least three new wineries have been licensed in South Jersey since Governor Christie signed the bill into law in mid-January. There are now more than 50 wineries in the state, and many more are planned. Advocates hope the nascent industry will continue to create jobs and bring much-needed revenue into the state.