New Jersey is one of the few states in the US that has a complex set of laws and regulations governing the production and sale of alcoholic beverages. The state's Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) division, overseen by the state Attorney General, is responsible for enforcing these laws. Farm Wineries must produce less than 50,000 gallons a year and maintain exclusive control over at least three acres of land containing grapes, vines, or growing fruits to be processed into wine or fruit juice. Homemade wine is allowed in quantities not exceeding 200 gallons per calendar year for personal or domestic use.
Municipalities have substantial discretion to pass ordinances that regulate the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages within their limits. The number of retail licenses available is determined by the population of the municipality and may be further limited by the city's governing body. As a result, the availability of alcohol and the regulations that govern it vary significantly from city to city. A small percentage of the state's municipalities are dry towns that don't allow the sale of alcoholic beverages and don't issue retail licenses for bars or restaurants to serve alcohol to customers.
Other cities allow the sale of alcohol 24 hours a day. Retail licenses are often difficult to obtain and, when available, are subject to exorbitant prices and fervent competition. Companies are limited to two retail distribution licenses, making it impractical for chain stores to sell alcoholic beverages; this restriction, along with municipal ordinances, severely limits the sale of beer by supermarket and convenience store chains. State law treats drunk driving as a traffic violation and not as a crime, and allows individual municipalities to define the scope of laws on underage drinking. The New Jersey Agricultural Vineyard Act passed in 1981 was the first effort by the state legislature to relax control of Prohibition-era restrictions. This allowed farms in New Jersey with at least three acres of grapes to produce and sell wine.
As a result, the number of wineries in New Jersey more than doubled in the late 80s and continued to increase throughout the 90s. The state also allows direct-to-consumer wine shipments from wineries in other states, with restrictions, but prohibits shipments from retailers in other states. In addition to giving local governments extensive freedom over the sale of alcoholic beverages, New Jersey law has other unusual features. For instance, due to complaints from bar owners about their inability to obtain liability insurance, the state passed a law in 1987 to limit liability to cases in which the waiter could realistically have known that the customer was a minor or was intoxicated, and to limit claims to foreseeable types of injuries. The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard also prohibit the consumption of alcohol by underage personnel when stationed in the United States. New Jersey's laws and regulations regarding alcohol are complex but provide an important framework for winemakers in the state.
With careful adherence to these laws and regulations, winemakers can ensure that their products are produced safely and responsibly.