While perhaps more identified with eating than drinking, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie – who headlined Cato’s recent Milton Friedman Prize Dinner – signed a law in January that allowed out-of-state winemakers to sell directly to in-state consumers and retailers. This wasn’t a spontaneous bit of New Year’s bonhomie – the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit had ruled in Freeman v. Corzine that the previous rules benefiting in-state wineries was unconstitutional (that pesky Commerce Clause again) – but still it was a positive sign: even Wine Spectator took note.
More importantly, the district judge in charge of the nine-year lawsuit challenging that earlier law recently approved the consent decree whereby New Jersey’s new law remedied the claims brought by the out-of-state wineries. The agreement creates an out-of-state plenary winery license (good luck saying that after having consumed too much of the the vintage) under which “foreign” wine can compete on an equal playing field with good ol’ New Jersey stock. Specifically, the new law grants this license to out-of-state applicants, including those who sell their wares over the internet, who do not produce more than 250,000 gallons of wine per year and are duly licensed in another state.
The upshot is that the new law takes effect as of this month.
This all still seems like a bit too much regulation to me, but at least everyone is now subject to the same rules. I may have to take advantage of this newfound freedom when I travel up to the Garden State for my college reunion in a few weeks.