New Jerseyans will soon be able to order their favorite boutique wines sent straight to their homes following Gov. Christie's signing Tuesday of a measure that made the state the 39th to allow direct shipping.
The law, to take effect in four months, applies to wineries anywhere in the country that produce less than 250,000 gallons a year. That includes all of the approximately 40 wineries in New Jersey.
The law permits oenophiles to order up to 12 cases annually from the small wineries. For mass-produced wines, consumers still would need to buy from a store.
The state's growing winemaking industry, and wine enthusiasts, supported the bill. The state liquor industry opposed it, saying that it would hurt liquor store business.
"This would not have been possible without the hundreds of thousands of New Jersey wine fans who wrote, e-mailed, and called their local legislators to support the legislation," said Ollie Tomasello, chairman of the Garden State Wine Growers Association.
"It has been a long, uphill battle against the powerful national liquor lobby that opposed the legislation - only more proof that when the people speak in volume, their elected officials listen," he said.
The law still must pass muster with a federal court judge.
U.S. District Judge Katharine Hayden in Newark is presiding over a constitutional challenge to New Jersey's previous ban on direct shipping.
In December 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit said New Jersey had unconstitutionally discriminated against out-of-state wineries by permitting only in-state vintners to sell directly to consumers.
The appeals court sent the case back to Hayden's court with two options: Give out-of-state wineries the same right, or prohibit all wineries from selling directly to consumers.
The lawsuit was brought in 2003 by New Jersey wine enthusiasts and a California winery who argued that the Garden State should not be allowed to ban shipment of wine to its residents. They also objected to a provision in the law that permitted only in-state wineries to sell directly to consumers, through tasting rooms and restaurant kiosks.
Hayden is expected to rule within a few months on whether the new law meets the constitutional test.
The law, sponsored by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) and Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D., Gloucester), also will end a limbo for new state wineries and those that want to expand operations.
Wineries in New Jersey sell most of their wine at on-premises tasting rooms and at their stand-alone outlets or kiosks in restaurants.
Currently, 16 winery license applications and 22 outlet license applications are held up at the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), pending resolution of the legal fight.
The new law will permit each winery to operate up to 15 outlets.