Among the 46 states that allow wineries to ship directly to consumers, New Jersey saw the smallest growth in this area during a pandemic-impacted 2020.

According to statistics from Wines Vines Analytics/Sovos Ship Compliant, which have been tracking direct-to-consumer wine shipping for over a decade, direct shipping grew nationwide by 27% in 2020. Shipments in New Jersey, meanwhile, increased by just 3.5%.

Free the Grapes, a coalition of consumers and wineries, claims the paltry growth is due to "frustrating limits" in New Jersey that date back to a law passed in 2012 when the state first began to allow direct shipments to consumers.

Under current law, only wineries that produce 250,000 gallons (about 106,000 cases) or less per year are permitted to directly ship wine to New Jersey residents and consumers residing in other states. In addition, out-of-state wineries that annually produce 250,000 gallons or less may obtain a license to directly ship wine to New Jersey residents.

According to Free the Grapes, this blocks New Jerseyans from more than 90% of wine made in the U.S.

"COVID has really surfaced the lack of choice that New Jersey wine lovers have with wine," said executive director Jeremy Benson.

Capacity caps only exist in New Jersey and Ohio, the group says — similar restrictions have been scrapped in Massachusetts and Arizona.

There are no wineries in New Jersey that currently produce more than 106,000 cases per year, Benson said, but there are "a couple getting pretty close," including Tomasello Winery, which has a number of tasting rooms throughout the state.

"As those wineries grow and succeed, then they wouldn't be able to ship to consumers within New Jersey as well, if this law continues to stay in effect," Benson said.

Legislation to scrap New Jersey's limit exists in the New Jersey Senate and Assembly. The legislation would allow wineries that produce more than 250,000 gallons per year to directly ship up to 12 cases annually to any person over the age of 21.

"There's no reason to restrict consumer choice the way New Jersey's law does," said Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, D-Middlesex. "It's long past time to change it and join the rest of the country."

When the idea was discussed by committees in October, lawmakers and individuals from the liquor-store industry voiced concerns about the move's potential impact on other businesses in the state.

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