Monday, January 16, 2012

Newark Star-Ledger Recommends Gov. Christie to Sign Wine Bill

Editorial: Gov. Christie should sign bill to allow direct wine shipments to N.J. residents
Published: Wednesday, January 11, 2012, 7:02 AM
By Times of Trenton Editorial Board

Patti Sapone/The Star-Ledger

In the flurry of last-minute business as the legislative session ticked to a close Monday, the Assembly and the Senate voted to change the law governing wine sales.

The bill, which now goes to Gov. Chris Christie for his consideration, would allow wineries around the state to take orders online and send their wines directly to consumers and retailers.

It follows a previous legislative attempt that sputtered when a federal court ruled that denying direct-sales opportunities to out-of-state wineries was unconstitutional. This bill remedies that, leveling the playing field as it opens New Jersey for exports and imports.

It also allows N.J. wineries producing less than 250,000 gallons a year to open more retail outlets or “tasting rooms” and sell directly to consumers or pair up with restaurants to sell bottles to diners.

All of this could add up to a very good year with continued growth of N.J. agriculture; the wineries’ increasing contribution to the economy; and a wider selection for Garden State wine aficionados.

New Jersey has evolved into one of the top wine-producing states in the country. Dozens of Garden State wines are recognized with awards and honors as the reputation for quality has grown more robust year after year. Unfortunately, consumers have not had full access to those choices unless they scouted out wine festivals or traveled far afield for a favored Riesling or a particular Sangiovese.

The internet has revolutionized the way we shop for almost every commodity; it makes no sense to exclude wine sales from that convenience. Indeed, 38 other states see it that way.

Meanwhile, arguments against the bill have not improved with age. They still center on the worry that teens will manipulate the direct shipping option to obtain wine illegally. Any delivery, however, will involve extended time, shipping fees and the signature of an adult over 21.

Opponents have also said it will strike a financial blow to wine distributors. That argument fails to recognize that direct sales account for only 1 percent of wine purchases nationwide. Shopping online allows consumers to find special wines that aren’t available in the local shop. While it poses no threat to liquor stores, it will enhance an industry that’s keeping many farmers in business.

We urge the governor to sign the measure into law. Its time has come.

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