by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation
When people think of farmland, large swaths of corn or grain likely come to mind. But in the Garden State, farmland means everything from apples to zinnias – and a diverse array of agricultural products that includes delicious cheeses and wines.
If you haven’t been paying attention to New Jersey wines, it may surprise you to know that this state we’re in ranks fifth in the nation for wine production. Our state’s nearly 40 wineries produce about a million gallons of wine per year.
The New Jersey Wine Growers Association estimates that more than 40 grape varieties are grown here, producing everything from Riesling and Chardonnay to ports and fruit wines made with cranberries and blueberries.
You may think the idea of fine wines from New Jersey would prompt snickering from the Napa Valley, but don’t be fooled. New Jersey’s wineries produce award-winning wines – and pump millions of dollars into the state economy through sales tax and a growing agri-tourism business that includes winery tours and tastings.
New Jersey supports a healthy and affluent customer base for wines. More wine priced at $24.99 and higher is sold here than anywhere in the nation. To compete, the Garden State’s small wineries tap the market by bypassing wholesalers and selling directly to New Jersey restaurants and retailers.
But out-of-state wineries, which are required to sell through licensed wholesalers, recently won a federal court case charging that New Jersey’s laws are unfair.
If New Jersey’s wineries are no longer able to sell directly to retailers, they will be forced to compete with much larger vineyards. The resulting business environment may be untenable – like a corner five & dime store trying to sell to the same customers as Wal-Mart.
Should the worst happen and New Jersey wineries start shutting down, it would be a severe blow to an up-and-coming segment of our agricultural economy.
Unfortunately, the issue may ultimately be decided in the courts. But you can make a difference by having a glass of New Jersey native wine… how’s that for grassroots citizen activism? Ask for domestic New Jersey wines at your favorite wine retailer or restaurant, and get to know the fruit of the grape from the Garden State!
If you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s (NJCF) website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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