State senators voted Thursday to allow New Jersey wineries to ship their wines to customers - including those out-of-state.

Currently, the state's more than 30 wineries can sell bottles only over the counter. The restriction was designed to prevent people younger than 21 from getting alcoholic drinks.

That ban also stopped residents from receiving bottles of wine by mail from other regions, including winemaking hubs such as California.

But senators Thursday approved a proposal to allow those wineries to ship everything from cranberry dessert wine to cabernet right to customers' homes.

"Allowing direct shipments of wine to and from New Jersey will not only enhance consumer choice, but would provide essential inroads for our budding wine industry," said Sen. Steve Sweeney,

D-Gloucester, Cumberland, Salem, one of its sponsors.

"With our wineries producing better and better wines and winning prestigious awards, we should be expanding, not limiting, access to New Jersey wines."

The bill has expanded from its original scope, which would have allowed state wineries to send wine just to customers in-state.

In a set of amendments made to the bill in late February, the proposal now allows wineries to apply for a "wine direct shipper license," which would allow them to send wine to buyers in other states.

Wineries in southern New Jersey have long complained that when tourists from other states come to visit the region's vineyards for tours and tastings, the rules stop them from buying bottles of the local wine as souvenirs.

The no-ship rules mean visitors have to carry the breakable bottles with them for the rest of their trip or pass up purchases altogether.

However, the revised bill also allows wine to be shipped in directly, as well as shipped out. That means New Jersey wineries will not have a competitive edge against bigger operations in other states.

A spokesman for the Garden State Wine Growers Association declined to comment Thursday.

All existing sales-tax levies still would apply to purchases.

The first draft of the bill also called for recipients to sign a declaration stating they were of drinking age. But those provisions have been stripped out. Legislative officials said Thursday that the provisions had turned out to be unworkable because they broke a federal law by limiting postal workers from doing their job.

Instead, the bill requires every box of wine carry a clear label instructing that the package should be signed for.

The Senate voted 29-5 to pass the measure. A similar bill is under consideration in the Assembly Committee on Regulatory Oversight and Gaming but does not exactly match the new Senate amendments on out-of-state shipping and signatures.

Contact Juliet Fletcher:



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