N.J. wine growers say industry future at stake

TRENTON – Former Gov. Jim Florio joined wine growers  today to call on the Legislature to support a bill that, they say, would prevent the New Jersey wine industry from shriveling.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently ruled that retail outlets run by state-based wineries are unconstitutional since out-of-state wineries are prevented from doing the same thing.

However, a bill proposed in the Assembly, A3897, by John Burzichelli, (D-3), of Paulsboro, will enable New Jersey wineries to directly ship their products out of state, and vice versa. The state has approximately 50 wineries.

Florio said the legislation will help preserve one of the fastest-growing industries in the agriculture section. Attention is needed so that the bill doesn’t get “lost in the shuffle,” given all the recent scrutiny on such mammoth issues as pensions and benefits, bill supporters said today.

The bill would enable wineries that produce a maximum of 250,000 gallons of wine a year to directly ship their products out of state. Many of these “small wineries” rely on tasting rooms for revenue, and rarely sell their products to wholesalers or packaged goods outlets, bill supporters said.

As Burzichelli described it, “New Jersey farms are new Jersey factories.”

“New Jersey is producing a good wine product. It’s time for these very old rules (from the Prohibition era) to be changed.”

As Audrey Gambino, who runs Villa Milagro, a small winery in Finesville, said, “I need to be able to sell directly to have continued access.”

Bob Clark, of Chestnut Farms, said the wine industry is strong and produces high-quality products and must be supported. Wines he produced from Asian pears have won medals, he said.

Former Agriculture Secretary Art Brown was also on hand, saying, “If we keep nibbling at some of these products … it could be drastic, the response it’ll have on our growers.”

Presently, some 38 out of 50 states in the country allow wineries to directly ship their products, according to the Wine Institute. The state has approximately 50 wineries.

  N.J. wine growers say industry future at stake