Wineries want to ship directly to N.J. homes — but liquor stores oppose plan

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Wineries producing more than 250,000 gallons of wine each year — roughly 100,000 cases — are prohibited from shipping bottles directly to N.J. customers, according to state law.
Vineyards in New Jersey are also subject to the production cap, but right now none exceed it. (AP Photo/Ralph Radford)

Wineries producing more than 250,000 gallons of wine each year — roughly 100,000 cases — are prohibited from shipping bottles directly to N.J. customers, according to state law. Vineyards in New Jersey are also subject to the production cap, but right now none exceed it. (AP Photo/Ralph Radford)

A coalition calling itself Free the Grapes is pushing legislation that would allow major wine producers to ship bottles of their alcoholic libations directly to consumers in New Jersey.

Right now, the most prolific producers of wine are barred from shipping their products to individual buyers in the Garden State.

“We couldn’t explain it,” said California vinter Dennis Cakebread of the ban. “You know how legislation gets made. It’s like making sausage: You can’t explain all the ingredients that go into it, and you don’t always want to know.”

But the N.J. Liquor Store Alliance, which represents the retail side of the industry, is telling them to put a cork in it.

Wineries producing more than 250,000 gallons of wine each year — roughly 100,000 cases — are prohibited from shipping bottles directly to N.J. customers, according to state law.

Vineyards in New Jersey are also subject to the production cap, but right now none exceed it.

Production at Cakebread’s California winery does surpass the cap, which means he cannot ship wine directly to customers in N.J. and loses out on the additional business.

He pointed to a 2017 study by the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, which found that New Jersey could add $4 million in taxes and fees to state coffers if it scrapped the cap.

“I don’t know why New Jersey wouldn’t want $4 million,” Cakebread said. “It’s not that large in the scope of things. But $4 million here and $4 million there starts to add up to a solution for some other problems.”

New Jersey and Ohio are the only two states that allow direct-to-consumer shipping but impose a cap on the most prolific winemakers, Cakebread said. (Even Pennsylvania, notorious for its arcane liquor laws, began to allow direct-to-consumer shipping without a production cap in 2016.)

A bill pending in both houses of the state Legislature would do away with the limit.

But the effort does face some opposition, including from the N.J. Liquor Store Alliance, which represents the retailers who would be cut out of the equation if vineyards could ship directly to aficionados.

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