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Winemakers make case for board, expanded marketing funding

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Lawmakers are weighing a measure that would establish a new board for the state's wine industry, replacing an existing advisory council and providing greater funding for efforts like marketing and other programs that would drive tourism.

The bill, S-2845, is being heard today by the Senate Economic Growth Committee, and has drawn support from the Garden State Wine Growers Association, which represents 39 wineries throughout the state. If signed into law, the measure would fund an eight-member New Jersey wine board through tax revenue from wine and cider sales in the state.

The formula includes collections of about 88 cents per gallon on all sales of wines, vermouth and sparkling wines sold by winery licensees, up 41 cents from the current statutory amount. The bill also would expand the board's duties beyond those of the current Wine Industry Advisory Council, including research and advertising functions.

Advocates say the bill is based on similar legislation in Virginia, which formed a wine board in 2005. The resulting panel funded activities like a "wine and dine month" and a tasting summit, along with marketing materials and sponsored activities.

The move helped double the number of wineries in that state, produce more than 1,600 jobs and create more than $72 million in new tourism spending, the New Jersey wine growers said in a press release, citing an economic impact study.

The Garden State's growing wine industry already is feeling momentum, after Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill last year that allows wineries to ship directly to customers.

The eight members of the new board would include the state Secretary of Agriculture and tourism director, members recommended by the New Jersey Farm Bureau and the wine growers group, a Rutgers University agricultural expert, and three appointees by the governor.

Under the bill, the board would allocate at least 10 percent of its funding annually for projects that advance research tied to the growing of grapes and production of wine in New Jersey. The remaining portion will be used to promote the wine industry and tourism.

Executives from the group were scheduled to testify this morning before the Senate committee, including Larry Sharrott III, owner of a Winslow winery and vice chair of the association. In a prepared statement, Sharrott said the bill "will allow the New Jersey wine industry to achieve significant growth by providing greater financial resources to market our industry," as in Virginia.

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