Monday, July 11, 2011

New Jersey wineries 'waiting for the ax to fall'

New Jersey wineries 'waiting for the ax to fall'
Published: Monday, July 11, 2011, 1:45 AM
By Jessica Driscoll/ Gloucester County Times

Local winemakers have been facing uncertainty about the future of their vineyards since December, when a federal court of appeals ruled that it was unconstitutional to allow in-state wineries to sell directly to retailers and in tasting rooms while requiring others to go through wholesalers.

Staff photo by Tim HawkNew Jersey wineries are waiting for the ax to fall.

Since then, state lawmakers have been unable to pass a bill that would protect these businesses, an important part of New Jersey agriculture.

Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney backed a bill that would allow state wineries to keep their tasting rooms open and ship their products directly to consumers’ homes. But Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Cryan — though he supports the tasting room business — wants to require wineries to work through distributors.

The bill was not passed by the time lawmakers departed for their summer recess last week — an issue that’s making most vineyard owners uncomfortable, if not downright angry.

“I think all the New Jersey wineries are in exactly the same spot, waiting for the ax to fall,” said Scott Donnini, owner of Auburn Road Vineyards in Pilesgrove Township. “In our tasting room, we have dinners every Friday night, dinner and music on Saturdays and a variety of other events. If we were forced to close that, we’d be done, finished, out of business.”

Unlike owners of wineries who started as farmers and converted to winemaking for the “cash crop,” Donnini and his wife were both Philadelphia lawyers who decided to buy a piece of open land and turn it into a vineyard.

“Senator Sweeney’s bill would save our wineries, but the point is that something needs to be accomplished. We need these politicians to get their act together fast,” said Donnini.

“We are a very minor political issue in the sense that no one will gain or lose a vote because of the wineries,” he added. “We’re not a party to the litigation which is a travesty of justice. We’ve been looking for a legislative solution, but for eight months we’ve been jerked around mercilessly. We don’t have the money, we’re not getting support and that’s putting us in a desperate situation.”

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