Tag archives for “Direct To Consumer Wine Shipping”

The Supreme Court Rules in Tennessee Retailers: What Does It Really Mean?

Last week, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association v. Thomas, No. 18-96 (“Tennessee Retailers”). The full opinion can be read here, and our introduction to the case and issues can be found here. To recap, at issue in this case is the interplay between the Dormant Commerce Clause and the 21st Amendment. The Dormant Commerce Clause prohibits states from discriminating against interstate commerce, while the 21st Amendment grants to each state the authority to regulate alcohol within its borders. In Tennessee Retailers, the Court considered to what extent the 21st Amendment allows states to pass laws regulating the alcohol industry that would otherwise be prohibited by the Dormant Commerce Clause. The Court last addressed this question in 2005, when the Court held in Granholm v. Heald that the 21st Amendment “does not immunize all [state alcohol] laws from Commerce Clause challenge.” In that case, the Court invalidated laws that favored in-state wineries over out-of-state wineries with respect to direct sales and shipments to consumers. Last week’s ruling in Tennessee Retailers confirmed a broad reading of the prior ruling in Granholm, as applied to a Tennessee law requiring applicants for retail liquor store licenses to live in the state for two years before being eligible for the license. The Court held that Tennessee’s discrimination against out-of-state individuals in the granting of retail licenses violates the Dormant Commerce Clause, and is not saved by the 21st Amendment. The Court ruled that the 21st Amendment “allows each State leeway to enact the measures that its citizens believe are appropriate to address the public health and safety effects of alcohol use and to serve other legitimate interests,” but that it does not “license the States to adopt protectionist measures with no demonstrable connection to those interests” in violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause. The Court also clarified that the prior ruling in Granholm was not limited to prohibiting discrimination against out-of-state products and producers, and that states are prohibited from discriminating against any out-of-state interests, including out-of-state individuals or retailers. Much of the news coverage and discussion of this case has focused on the impact of the case on state laws that allow in-state retailers to ship alcohol directly to consumers, but prohibit out-of-state retailers from doing the same. Some coverage implied that such laws were automatically invalidated by the Court’s ruling, but the retailer direct shipping issue was not in front of the Court. While the ruling in Tennessee Retailers does confirm that the principles in Granholm apply to all out-of-state interests, rather than just out-of-state producers, the ruling does not categorically prohibit all state alcohol laws that do not treat in-state and out-of-state businesses equally. The ruling is instead a continuation of the Granholm conversation. The ruling confirms that states “‘remain free to pursue’ their legitimate interests in the health and safety risks posed by the alcohol trade,” and that the 21st Amendment does confer additional regulatory authority to the states. However, when a discriminatory state law is “purely protectionist” and cannot be “justified as a public health or safety measure” or on some other “legitimate non-protectionist ground,” then the law will be found unconstitutional. Thus, state laws that allow in-state retailers to ship alcohol directly to consumers, but prohibit out-of-state retailers from doing so, are not definitively unconstitutional following the ruling in Tennessee Retailers. These laws are only unconstitutional if the state cannot establish that the laws are necessary to advance a legitimate local purpose, such as protecting public health and safety, and that there are no reasonable nondiscriminatory alternatives that can adequately further that purpose. So, what does this ruling really mean? First, the ruling is a victory for out-of-state individuals and entities that desire to apply for a retail liquor store license in Tennessee. Second, other states with burdensome retail residency requirements, such as Massachusetts and Maryland, are likely evaluating the legality of their laws in light of the ruling in Tennessee Retailers. Such states may opt to eliminate such requirements, or may decide to leave the residency requirements in place until challenged. Given the language in Tennessee Retailers analyzing the lack of connection between Tennessee’s residency requirements and advancing public health and safety interests, leaving burdensome residency requirements in place may be risky. But, the State of Tennessee did not attempt to defend its laws, and the public health and safety arguments put forth by the Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association were cursory, and thus other states may believe that they can do a better job defending their laws. If any states decide to leave retail residency requirements in place, it is likely that litigation will follow. Third, states with residency requirements for wholesaler licenses, such as Missouri, are also likely weighing whether to revise such laws or to leave the residency requirements in place until challenged. Missouri’s wholesaler residency requirements were upheld as constitutional by the 8th Circuit in 2013. However, the 8th Circuit ruling was based on a narrow reading of Granholm, and that interpretation was directly refuted by the Court in Tennessee Retailers. Accordingly, it would not be surprising to see litigation on this issue in the very near future, if such states do not remove wholesaler residency requirements. Finally, even less-burdensome residency requirements, such as requirements for licensees to have a resident manager, may be vulnerable to challenge. While residency requirements will be most directly in the line of fire following Tennessee Retailers, the ruling has the potential to impact many other aspects of state alcohol regulation. Unlike Granholm, the Tennessee Retailers Court declined to describe the three-tier system as “unquestioningly legitimate.” The Court clarified that while the basic three-tier model may be sound, the 21st Amendment does not sanction “every discriminatory feature that a State may incorporate into its three-tiered scheme.” It is unclear to what extent Tennessee Retailers will spur states to act on their own to revise discriminatory aspects of the state’s alcohol regulatory scheme. We may see states make changes independently, but it may be that significant change will only be achieved through litigation. As the Court noted, “each variation [of three-tiered alcohol regulatory schemes] must be judged on its own features.” Because discriminatory alcohol laws are only unconstitutional if they are not reasonably necessary to advance a legitimate local purpose, states may leave discriminatory laws on the books in the hopes that they can justify those laws if challenged. Accordingly, the most direct outcome of Tennessee Retailers will likely be a considerable amount of litigation. Which laws are the most likely targets of litigation? Any state alcohol laws that discriminate against “out-of-state economic interests” are vulnerable to challenge under Granholm and Tennessee Retailers. So, litigation could focus on laws that authorize only in-state retailers to deliver or ship to consumers, or it could target laws such as physical presence requirements, tied-house exceptions that allow only in-state producers to operate retail locations, laws that require retailers to purchase from in-state sources, laws that authorize only in-state suppliers to self-distribute products to retailers, at-rest laws, or franchise law exemptions that apply only to in-state suppliers. The recent ruling in Tennessee Retailers may also inspire further litigation and move the needle in the related area of alcohol laws that are facially neutral but potentially discriminatory in effect. For example, states such as New Jersey or Ohio with laws that have special privileges for certain “small” producers, where the definition of “small” may be designed to encompass most or all in-state producers while excluding many out-of-state producers. While we noted above that some news coverage has overstated the immediate impact of Tennessee Retailers on out-of-state retailer direct to consumer shipping or delivery, the ruling will undoubtedly lead to more litigation regarding these laws. Some of that litigation may be successful in invalidating laws that allow in-state retailers to ship or deliver alcohol directly to consumers, but prohibit out-of-state retailers from doing so. However, each case will depend upon the specifics of the state’s regulatory scheme and the state’s public health and safety justifications for that scheme. While the justifications for Tennessee’s residency requirements were weak, states may have stronger public health and safety justifications for laws regulating delivery and direct shipping, such as preventing underage drinking or delivery of alcohol to intoxicated persons. Note, however, that this argument was held in Granholm to be insufficient justification for treating in-state and out-of-state wineries differently with respect to the shipment of wine to consumers. But, the strength of public health and safety justifications will likely be different in states that allow retailer hand delivery but not shipment by common carrier of alcohol, and these justifications may also be different with respect to beer or spirits as opposed to wine. Furthermore, states may have additional public health and safety justifications based on preventing counterfeit alcohol. An out-of-state retailer would not obtain its products from the same distribution system as an in-state retailer, and the state’s public health and safety justifications for its distribution system and requirements for alcohol sourcing may be persuasive. However, a state making this argument would likely also need to assert that there are no reasonable nondiscriminatory alternatives to accomplishing the goal of preventing counterfeit alcohol. There are at least two cases already pending that challenge state laws with respect to alcohol shipping and delivery. In Missouri, Sarasota Wine Market v. Schmitt is on appeal to the 8th Circuit. The lower court held that Missouri’s laws permitting in-state retailers to ship wine directly to consumers, but prohibiting out-of-state retailers from doing the same, are valid under the 21st Amendment. However, this ruling was based on the 8th Circuit precedent mentioned above, which relied on a narrow interpretation of Granholm that was contradicted by the Court in Tennessee Retailers. Further, Lebamoff Enterprises v. Snyder, challenging Michigan’s wine shipping laws that treat in-state and out-of-state retailers differently, is pending before the 6th Circuit. In that case, the lower court held that Michigan’s laws are unconstitutional, as they impermissibly discriminate against out-of-state interests without sufficient justification in violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause. This ruling and appeal were stayed pending the outcome in Tennessee Retailers. These two cases will likely provide the earliest insight into how courts will apply the recent Supreme Court ruling. Even if the outcome of these cases is that state laws are found invalid, it will not necessarily mean that these states will allow out-of-state retailer direct shipments. Upon a court ruling that a state’s laws are discriminatory and unconstitutional, the state could decide to rectify the issue by “leveling down” to prohibit all retailer alcohol shipments to consumers, from both in-state and out-of-state retailers. As such, the law would apply equally to all retailers regardless of location, so it would not be discriminatory. “Leveling down” to remove all retailer alcohol shipping privileges would likely be unpopular with consumers, but it may find support from some segments of the alcohol industry. Thus, this outcome remains a possibility even if litigation challenging laws prohibiting out-of-state retailer shipping is successful. Overall, we will have to wait and see what the ruling in Tennessee Retailers will mean for the alcohol industry. But, if you have any questions regarding this ruling or how current laws affect your alcohol business, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.

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New Connecticut Law Allowing Retailer Direct To Consumer Wine Shipments Effective Today

Direct to consumer (“DTC”) wine shipping is a reoccurring topic on the Alcohol.law Digest. (Our most recent post on winery and retailer DTC shipping is located here.) This particular post addresses recent legislation in Connecticut, Senate Bill 647. Effective today, that legislation creates a new permit allowing out-of-state retailers to sell and ship wine directly to Connecticut consumers. The Connecticut Liquor Control Division has posted the application for this new permit, the Out-of-State Retailer Shipper’s Permit, as well as application instructions and guidance, here. The compliance requirements for the new permit mirror the existing requirements for wineries to ship directly to Connecticut consumers. For example, out-of-state retailer shipper permittees must ensure that wine containers are conspicuously labeled: “CONTAINS ALCOHOL—SIGNATURE OF A PERSON AGE 21 OR OLDER REQUIRED FOR DELIVERY.” Further, the wine recipient must sign for the delivery and provide valid proof that he or she is at least twenty-one years of age. There are registration, reporting, and tax obligations. An out-of-state retailer shipper permittee may not ship more than five gallons of wine to the same Connecticut consumer in any two-month period. Additionally, there is also a new requirement, applicable to out-of-state retailer shipper permittees as well as out-of-state winery shipper permittees, that prohibits the sale of wine below cost. Finally, the Connecticut LCD guidance indicates that all wine brands that will be shipped to Connecticut consumers must be registered with the state. If you have any questions about direct to consumer shipments of alcohol, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.

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The Supreme Court Is Set to Rule on a Retailer Direct Shipping Case! Well, Not So Fast…

Since the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, U.S. Supreme Court cases addressing the way alcohol is sold in the United States are not common. Most recently, the Court’s 2005 decision in Granholm v. Heald held that a state could not permit in-state wineries to sell and ship wine directly to consumers if the state precluded out-of-state wineries from enjoying the same right. In light of the ruling, many states revised their laws to allow direct-to-consumer sales and shipments from out-of-state wineries as well as in-state wineries. Retailers on the other hand, were more or less unaffected by the Granholm ruling and remain subject to various state prohibitions against out-of-state retailers shipping alcohol directly to in-state consumers. In January, the Supreme Court heard oral argument on a new alcohol law case that will further delineate the states’ powers to regulate alcohol. Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association v. Blair, No. 18-96, (“Tennessee Retailers”) asks whether the 21st Amendment, which gives states broad discretion to govern alcohol, empowers Tennessee to regulate the sale of alcohol through strict residency requirements for alcohol retail license applicants. Or, whether the imposition of those residency requirements and the effect on out-of-state license applicants violates the Dormant Commerce Clause, which prohibits states from discriminating against interstate commerce. The Petitioner in Tennessee Retailers, Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association (“TWSRA”), contends that the 21st Amendment permits states to regulate the sale of alcohol within their own borders, so Tennessee may require alcohol retail license applicants to reside in the state for two years before a retail license may be granted. The Respondents, Total Wine and Doug and Mary Ketchum, claim that Tennessee’s residency requirements violate the Dormant Commerce Clause because they discriminate against non-residents. The case originated when the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission (“TABC “) asked a court to determine the legality of the subject restrictions. The district court and the Sixth Circuit held that Tennessee’s residency requirement is unconstitutional, as the law is facially discriminatory and there was no evidence that alternative non-discriminatory regulations could not achieve the same purpose of protecting the health and safety of Tennessee residents. TWSRA appealed the Sixth Circuit decision to the Supreme Court. The case is now fully-briefed, oral argument is over (the transcript from oral argument can be found here), and the parties await the Court’s opinion. The Supreme Court has previously ruled that the Dormant Commerce Clause applies to prohibit states from discriminating against out-of-state alcohol products or producers, despite the 21st Amendment. The Tennessee Retailers case asks the Court to weigh the balance of the 21st Amendment and the Dormant Commerce Clause in the context of laws governing the issuance of in-state retail alcohol licenses. Advocates of retailer direct-to-consumer alcohol shipping hope that the Court will issue a broad ruling that holds that the Dormant Commerce Clause applies to limit states’ 21st Amendment powers to regulate alcohol retailers generally. The hope is that a broad ruling that applies the non-discrimination requirements of the Dormant Commerce Clause to alcohol retailers would require states to treat in-state and out-of-state retailers equally with respect to direct-to-consumer shipping privileges. However, even if the Court finds that the Dormant Commerce Clause limitsstates’ powers under the 21st Amendment with respect to the regulation of alcohol retailers, that would not automatically open up out-of-state retailer direct-to-consumer shipping. Under the Dormant Commerce Clause, a state is still permitted to enact discriminatory laws if the law advances a legitimate state purpose that cannot be adequately served by other reasonable nondiscriminatory alternatives. The Supreme Court has previously held that the three-tier system is “unquestionably legitimate,” and thus a state could still pass discriminatory laws that support the three-tier system, unless there are other reasonable nondiscriminatory alternatives. We will have to wait to see whether the Court will rule broadly or narrowly. Regardless of how the Court rules, the case will have an impact on the regulation of alcohol by individual states. The Court could issue its opinion soon, and Strike & Techel will update the Alcohol.law Digest with further information when that happens.

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End of 2018 Update: Direct To Consumer Wine Shipments

We last covered winery and retailer direct to consumer (“DTC”) wine shipments on this blog one year ago. (For those prior posts, see the following links: winery DTC shipping, retailer  DTC shipping.) This blog post summarizes the changes that occurred in 2018 with respect to winery and retailer DTC wine shipping. Winery DTC Wine Shipping – Beginning on October 1, 2018, Oklahoma’s new law allowing wineries to ship wine directly to Oklahoma consumers became effective. Retailer DTC Wine Shipping – There were no final changes in 2018 with respect to retailer DTC wine shipping; however, there are potentially some changes on the horizon. In August, the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco issued a Declaratory Ruling holding that it was enjoined by a prior court order from enforcing the laws prohibiting out-of-state retailers from selling wine into Florida. However, this ruling has been appealed, and thus may be reversed. Further, in September, a federal district court held that Michigan’s prohibition against out-of-state retailer wine shipping was unconstitutional. However, the Michigan litigation is stayed pending the outcome of a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, which is set for hearing on January 16, 2019. There is also similar litigation pending relating to Illinois’ and Missouri’s prohibitions against out-of-state retailer wine shipments, and accordingly there is the potential for future changes in these states as well. If you have any questions about direct to consumer shipments of alcohol, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.

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Florida Clarifies Permissibility of Delivery by Third Party Providers

Earlier this month, Florida House Bill 667 was passed and signed into law (effective July 1, 2018), which clarifies and expands delivery and third party provider rules for Florida retailers (known as “vendors” under Florida law). The bill amends Florida Statute § 561.57 to clarify that vendors can take orders online, and delivery can be made by a vendor in its own vehicle “or in a third-party vehicle pursuant to a contract with a third party with whom the vendor has contracted to make deliveries, including, but not limited to, common carriers.”. This amendment clarifies prior ambiguity over whether third party providers can deliver alcoholic beverages on behalf of vendors. The new law thus should provide comfort to both vendors and third party providers that third party providers can deliver in their own vehicles if they have an agreement with the vendor that makes the sale. Delivery vehicles are subject to search by law enforcement or employees of the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco without a warrant to ensure compliance with the law. The new law makes a couple of additional changes relating to delivery. It expressly prohibits brewpubs (i.e., a Florida manufacturer with a vendor license under Florida Statute § 561.221(2)) from delivering alcoholic beverages. And, a new section was added to § 561.57 which requires that proof of identification must be produced by the customer and checked by the delivery person upon delivery. If you have any questions about delivery or third party providers, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel for guidance.

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End of 2017 Review: Winery Direct to Consumer Shipments

Previously, we blogged about the 2017 changes to the landscape of interstate retailer direct to consumer (“DTC”) wine shipments. This past year did not see any changes with respect to the permissibility of interstate winery DTC shipments, but there is one change on the horizon in 2018. Currently, winery DTC shipments are permissible and available in 43 states (including Washington, DC). The following eight states have laws prohibiting interstate winery DTC shipments, or have laws or other circumstances that effectively prevent interstate winery DTC shipments in most situations (such as laws limiting winery DTC shipments to on-site sales, or common carriers not servicing the state, etc.):

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Kentucky
  • Mississippi
  • Oklahoma
  • Rhode Island
  • Utah
In 2018, the list above will be narrowed to seven states and winery DTC shipments will be permissible and available in 44 states, as Oklahoma opens up to direct winery shipments. As part of Oklahoma’s sweeping alcohol reform that was passed in 2016, a Direct Wine Shipper’s Permit was created (effective October 1, 2018), which will allow shipments by out-of-state wineries to Oklahoma consumers. Contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel if you have questions about your winery’s operations or direct to consumer wine shipments. 

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Michigan Relaxes Labeling and Shipping Requirements for Direct-to-Consumer Wine Shipments

Recently, we posted about Michigan Senate Bill 1088 here (“SB 1088”), which expands the delivery privileges of in-state retailers, and which authorizes third party providers and common carriers to assist with shipping and delivery on behalf of in-state retailers, subject to certain limitations. SB 1088 also amends Michigan’s winery direct-to-consumer shipping law, Mich. Comp. Laws § 436.1203(4). The revisions relax the labeling and packaging requirements for direct winery shipments, which will be welcome news to direct winery shippers as the Michigan Liquor Control Commission (“MLCC”) has actively enforced these labeling and packaging requirements in recent years. As of March 29, 2017, wineries no longer need to include their direct shipper license number or the order number on the outside label of each package shipped into Michigan. Direct shippers will still be required to label the top panel of the shipping package with the name and address of the individual placing the order and the name of the designated recipient, if different from the person placing the order. The outside label must also state “Contains Alcohol. Must be delivered to a person 21 years of age or older.” Inside each package to be shipped, the invoice or packing slip is no longer required to list the Michigan wine label registration number of approval for each wine shipped, although wineries will still be required to register their wine labels with the MLCC. SB 1088 also establishes new rules for common carriers. Common carriers acting on behalf of winery direct shipper licensees are subject to new recordkeeping and reporting requirements, as detailed in our prior post regarding SB 1088. If your winery is in need of assistance regarding direct shipping laws, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.

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Illinois SB 2989: Unlicensed Direct Wine Shippers Beware

On Friday, August 26, 2016, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed Senate Bill 2989 (“SB 2989”) into law. SB 2989 amends various sections of the Illinois Liquor Control Act that affect direct wine shipping into Illinois as well as use of third party providers (“TPPs”). This post summarizes the changes made by SB 2989, which take effect on January 1, 2017. The higher license fees, described below, take effect immediately. Harsher Penalties for Direct Wine Shipping Violations SB 2989 imposes tougher penalties on direct wine shipping violations. Any person, including wineries, importers, and retailers, who distributes or sells 108 liters or more of wine (144 bottles of wine), 45 liters or more of spirits (5 12/750 cases), or 118 liters or more of beer (more than 28 12-packs of beer) without a license is guilty of a Class 4 felony for each offense, which has a minimum sentence of 1 year. Prior to SB 2989, the first offense was a business offense with a fine of not more than $1,000, and any subsequent offense was a Class 4 felony. For illegal shipments of less than 108 liters of wine, less than 45 liters of spirits, or less than 118 liters of beer, the penalty for the first offense is still classified as a business offense with a fine of not more than $1,000, and the penalty for subsequent offenses remains a Class 4 felony. Furthermore, any person who has already been issued a cease and desist notice from the State Commission could face the same felony charges. New Disclosure Requirements for Winery Shipper’s Licensees and Reporting Requirements for TPPs For new and renewing applicants of an Illinois winery shipper’s license, SB 2989 requires disclosure of all third parties authorized to ship the licensee’s wine, excluding common carriers, to the Illinois Liquor Control Commission (“ILCC”). Licensees must submit each third party’s name and address and file a copy of the written appointment of the TPP with the ILCC. SB 2989 provides that a TPP, other than a common carrier, shipping wine on behalf of a winery shipper’s licensee is the agent of the licensee, and that the licensee is responsible for the acts and omissions of the TPP. In turn, SB 2989 requires that each TPP consent to the jurisdiction of Illinois and the ILCC. Furthermore, SB 2989 imposes a new audit requirement on any appointed TPP, which will be required to file with the ILCC, by February 1 of each calendar year, a statement detailing each shipment made to an Illinois resident. The ILCC also has the power to deny any third party appointment if the TPP previously violated the Liquor Control Act. Higher License Fees Across the board, SB 2989 increases license fees for manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers. The fees for a winery shipper’s license for a winery producing under 250,000 gallons annually have been increased from $150 to $350 for the initial application and $200 for an online renewal. The fees for a winery shipper’s license for a winery producing over 250,000 gallons, but under 500,000 gallons annually have been increased from $500 to $1,000 for the initial application and $750 for an online renewal. The fees for a winery shipper’s license for a winery producing 500,000 gallons or more annually have been increased from $1,000 to $1,500 for the initial application and $1,200 for an online renewal. For more information about the changes to the Illinois direct shipping laws, contact an attorney at Strike & Techel.

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Apply Now! Direct Wine Shipping Opens in New Jersey

At long last, as of May 1, 2012, applications for Out-of-State Winery licenses are being accepted in New Jersey, which will permit out-of-state wineries to ship wine directly to New Jersey consumers. As discussed in earlier posts, including here, New Jersey’s law was passed early in 2012, and makes New Jersey the 39th state to allow winery direct shipping. The law permits wineries producing no more than 250,000 gallons of wine per year to ship wine directly to consumers in the state. License holders may ship no more than 12 cases of wine each year per consumer for personal use. The license also includes limited privileges for holders to sell wine directly to retailers, and for tasting room privileges within New Jersey. No regulations were promulgated to go along with the direct shipping statute, but earlier this week, the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control released instructions and application forms for Out-of-State Winery licenses that provide more information about direct shipping, and which can be found here. First, the Out-of-State Winery license will be the most expensive direct shipping license in the county, with tiered pricing depending on the amount of wine produced, but costing $938 annually for wineries producing between 50,000 and 250,000 each year. Additionally, the instructions clarify that wine shipped must be manufactured by the Out-of-State Winery license holder. Other details of interest to potential applicants include: a) all applicants must register with the Secretary of state; b) a bond is required; c) all applicants must register with the Division of Taxation; and d) all brands must be registered before they can be shipped into the state. Each of these requirements comes with additional fees, so wineries should make sure the anticipated sales volumes warrant the costs of getting set-up. Please feel free to contact one of our attorneys if you are interested in more information about direct winery shipping in New Jersey.

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