On May 1, it became legal for wineries of a certain size to direct ship wine to New Jersey costumers.
It's great news for New Jersey wine growers, but perhaps not so great for local wine shops.
The fear of opponents to the new law — signed by Gov. Christie on January 17 — is that direct shipping will erode sales of wine in local retail shops around the state, potentially hurting local business and costing local jobs.
A major opponent of the bill that allowed direct shipping was Assemblyman John Cryan (D-Union), whose family owns Cryan's tavern in South Orange. In an Op-Ed piece on newjerseynewsroom.com, Cryan explained that he supported an alternative bill that he felt would not threaten local shops:
I sponsored the Assembly bill that would allow all wineries to sell their wine at physical outlets such as tasting rooms, restaurants and shops, in New Jersey. I feel my legislation balances the needs of New Jersey’s wineries by allowing them to continue to grow and flourish, and also protects the interests of our state and its residents. My approach is the proper one that balances the economic advantages with public safety and addresses Judge Hayden’s concerns.
Cryan explains that the new bill and his proposed bill both arose from a federal appeals court decision that found New Jersey’s laws and regulations for wine producers were unconstitutional because instate and out of state wineries did not abide by the same set of rules.
Another point of opposition to the direct shipping bill was the potential for underage drinkers to take advantage of the new option to obtain alcohol.
The Star-Ledger editorial board argued otherwise in an editorial. The board noted that long shipping times, high shipping fees and the need for the recipient to show ID upon signing for the delivery of the wine would both keep the new law from having a big impact on local retail shops and keep minors from ordering wine online.
Jose Sotelo, who owns Millburn's newest wine shop, , says he's not worried in the least.
"It's a free market environment in this country," he said. "Everyone should have the opportunity to sell their goods. Something like his makes it a more competitive market. That's a good thing. May the best man win."
Rosetta Weiser, who along with husband Alan owns Maplewood's , has a different take. "We don't see it as a major threat but it is another type of competition that we would rather not have," said Weiser. "It's another blow to small business."
One local group that is very happy with the new law is the Garden State Wine Growers Association, which represents 34 winery owners in New Jersey.
"Today ushered in an historic era for their industry with the launch of direct shipping of wine from wineries to homes throughout the state," the association stated in a release.
Starting May 1, New Jersey wineries began taking orders over the internet and phone to ship their products directly to the homes of New Jersey consumers.
“This is truly an historic day that was a long time coming, but thanks to the tireless efforts of legislators to support our industry, we can now begin a period that will allow our wineries to reach a broader audience and expose our award-winning wines to consumers throughout the state and country,” said Ollie Tomasello, Chairman of the Garden State Wine Growers Association and owner of Plagido’s Winery in Hammonton.
"It was about time," said Hank Zona, owner of Maplewood-based and host of "The Grapes Unwrapped." "When the legislation was passed in New York, there was none of the economic fallout to bars and liquor stores or an increase in underage accessibility to alcohol. This bill is pro-New Jersey agriculture, pro-New Jersey small business, pro-New Jersey tourism, and pro-drinking local. I hope there is an increase in business and visibility for the NJ wineries."
New Jersey wineries that become licensed in the 38 other states that allow direct shipping will eventually be able to ship out-of-state to consumers. Out-of-state wineries that produce less than 250,000 gallons of wine each year will also be allowed to ship wine directly the New Jersey homes, once they are approved for licenses. Wineries can ship up to 12 cases per year to any state resident 21 years of age or older.
- Laura Griffin contributed to this report.