Ridiculous N.J. law denies wine lovers free choice

The menu was picked, the décor was finalized. The only thing missing from my Boxing Day party was the wine.

During a recent trip to Napa, California, I visited Domaine Carneros, a breathtaking winery known for its sparkling wine and Pinot Noir. I fell in love with the idea of serving their wines at my party. Then, the trouble began.

I went to the winery’s website and ordered what I needed, only to discover at checkout that Domaine Carneros doesn’t ship to people’s homes or workplaces in New Jersey. When I found out why, I was flabbergasted.

The problem isn’t that the winery doesn’t want to ship to New Jerseyans, it’s that an archaic state law prevents it from doing so. It turns out that, in New Jersey, state government decides which wines you can or can’t have direct-shipped from wineries to your home or workplace — and the criteria for that decision makes no sense.

If a winery makes under 250,000 gallons of wine a year, it can ship to New Jersey residents. If it makes more, it can’t. Only one other state — Ohio — has such a “capacity cap.”

And, since many small, boutique wineries are owned by larger producers, and the cap is applied in aggregate, New Jerseyans are denied home delivery from about 90 percent of U.S. wineries.

Like many other New Jerseyans, I found a way around the law. I had the wine shipped to the New York City showroom of the furniture company I work for, although I work from home.

Imagine the traffic driving from Cranbury to Manhattan during the holiday season. Then, I had to have someone circle around Park Avenue as the showroom manager and I carried down five cases of wine. In addition, I felt like I was inconveniencing the showroom manager, who graciously agreed to be on hand to accept the delivery and then hold the wine in a storage closet for me.

I know there are larger problems in the world, but there’s no reason for New Jersey wine aficionados to have to deal with a state law that denies consumer choice. And it’s not like every wine can be bought at a local liquor store. There are 10,000 wine brands in the U.S.; no store stocks them all.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only time I faced this problem. In fact, it was the sixth time in a year where I had to make the trek to Manhattan to pick up wine from different wineries across the country. That’s not just inconvenient. It also costs New Jersey money lost from sales and excise taxes.

It turns out there’s something consumers in New Jersey can do about this. Free the Grapes, a national grassroots coalition of wine lovers and wineries, is working to remove New Jersey’s arbitrary restrictions and bring us the free choice that wine enthusiasts in almost every other state have. Bipartisan bills introduced in the Legislature ( S2496 and A3867) would allow New Jerseyans to have their favorite wines shipped to their home or office from any winery obtaining a license to ship to New Jersey.

I’ve since moved to Yardley, Pennsylvania, and now I can have wine shipped to my house, no matter the size of the winery. I look forward to my next hassle-free glass of red.

Catherine Daler is senior territory manager in New Jersey for AIS, a manufacturer of commercial office furniture and seating.