It’s unlikely the person enjoying a glass of wine this summer is aware of the controversy swirling around the wine industry in New Jersey, but it’s an important issue for New Jersey’s economy that must be handled correctly.
Wineries and vineyards have become important ambassadors of New Jersey’s agritourism, but their fate has been in limbo since a federal appeals court decision in December, found New Jersey’s laws and regulations for wine producers unconstitutional because instate and out of state wineries don’t abide by the same set of rules. The judge’s ruling was simple: either all vineyards, both instate or outstate, get outlets, or none do.
The Assembly and the Senate have approved separate bills to avoid leaving the future of New Jersey’s wineries to a judge. But the bills differ on the matter of the direct shipment of wine; an area the courts said is not part of the dispute.
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.
A different bill would allow direct shipment for out-of-state wineries (remember, an issue that the courts said is not part of the dispute), and would create tax loss to the state and public safety implications for our residents and our children. In addition, in 2002, the Legislature eliminated the direct mail shipment privileges of New Jersey’s in-state wineries on the basis of protecting our children and to collect all possible revenue. The decision, at the behest of New Jersey’s in-state wineries, was the right decision then, and it is the right decision now.
If the loss of revenue and jobs to the state of New Jersey isn’t enough, as well as endangering the safety of our children, the out of state wineries and their lobbyist that are supporting the direct shipment of wine to NJ consumers, are currently suing the state of New Jersey in federal court. They don’t care about New Jersey and our residents; they only care about their greed. Their lawsuit has actually damaged New Jersey’s wineries, the very wineries that I seek to protect in my legislation.
So why is there a piece of legislation that is being mistakenly offered as a solution but it includes the direct shipment of wine? Is it so the out of state wineries and their lobbyist can tap into the New Jersey market, which is the nation’s fifth largest alcoholic beverage marketplace, and take our jobs and tax revenues?
Direct shipment provides a virtual store for teens to buy alcohol they would otherwise be prohibited from buying at liquor stores. It makes the face-to-face purchase transaction practically irrelevant; and makes underage drinking as simple as a mouse click. It also, will have an adverse effect on the appropriate collection of revenues at all levels, excise taxes, corporate, sales tax, as economic studies show “direct shipments tend to have a negative impact on tax revenues.”
I can appreciate the convenience of having wine directly shipped to a person’s home, but it should not be done at the expense of New Jersey’s financial stability and its children. The fact is, in New Jersey, we have a three-tier distribution system in place to protect our great states citizens, children, safety and revenue. This is a system that has worked since 1933, and we should not be bullied by out of state wineries who seek to destroy it. The three-tier system has lead to 60,000 retail jobs in our state and if we were to allow direct shipping, those New Jersey jobs would potentially all but disappear.