Wednesday, February 08, 2012

BYOW in VA & DC, NOT in MD

If the government wrote a law, would anyone notice? In his blog, WineLine, Dave McIntyre—who also writes a wine column for the Washington Post— posted this yesterday:

[In Virginia], it is legal for restaurants to allow customers to bring their own wine for dinner. The practice, called “corkage,” was legalized in Virginia last July 1 [2011]. But hardly anyone – restaurants or customers – knows about it.

Virginia's law sets no requirements on how much (or a how little) a restaurant may charge (the so-called corkage fee) or on whether or not the restaurant is required to allow a customer to bring in wine. That decision still remains with the individual restaurant.

I contacted two restaurateurs —one in Richmond, Virginia, and one in northern Virginia— for their opinions on the law change.

Julia Battaglini is the proprietor of Secco Wine Bar in Richmond, Virginia. She wrote:
As many of you may have heard, Virginia passed a law such that, as of July 1st, 2011, ABC-licensed restaurants may choose to allow diners to bring in their own wine and charge a "corkage" fee. After much thought, gnashing of teeth and heated debate, I have decided that Secco Wine Bar will offer a corkage option to our patrons at a $20 fee. HOWEVER, if that bottle comes from River City Cellars [next-door wine shop] we will offer a discounted corkage fee of only $10.

While I have pretty strong feelings as a restaurant owner (and the person who spends half her waking hours agonizing over and maintaining a list of 50+ uncommon, small-production, terroir-driven selections meant to match Chef Tim's ever changing food menu), I also realize there are special, rare bottles in this world meant to be shared, and a pretty rockin' wine shop right next door.

I do, however, reserve the right to trounce anyone who shows up with two buck chuck.

Photo courtesy Julia Battaglini

Adam Roth operates his restaurant, Argia's, in Falls Church, a jurisdiction found only eight miles from Washington, D.C., where BYOW and corkage fees have long been allowed. He said:
I'm all for the corkage law. Who knows how much business northern Virginia restaurants have lost to D.C. before it was passed. We've had people take advantage of it already in just one week. There is no good reason that it shouldn't be allowed. Hopefully, there is more reform to come to Virginia 'Blue laws' that really hurt Virginia businesses and the Commonwealth's tax payers.

We charge a $20 flat fee with no limit on bottles (within reason and propriety). Free corkage on Tuesday nights.

Restaurants mark up the price of wine (and beer and spirits) to cover costs of food and labor and rent). Thus, the cost of one's meal is the cost of the entire restaurant 'experience' —and for not having to wash the dishes. That being said, a customer who brings in a bottle of wine is indeed a customer, one who otherwise may not have been one.

A similar proposal in Maryland failed in 2011, opposed, ironically, by the Maryland Restaurant Association. But, in a gloriously inane exception, Maryland restaurants that do not have a liquor license are permitted to allow customers to bring in their own wine.

Bauer Grüner Veltliner

But, what if you wanted to take an unfinished bottle of wine home with you?

As long the bottle were securely resealed, that would be okay in Maryland. If you were in Washington, D.C., that would be legal as long the restaurant 'officially' re-sealed the bottle. But ... don't do it in Virginia! You'd be in violation of the 'open-container' law.


  • The National Restaurant Association has published a pdf of the current state of 're-seal' wine laws: here.
  • I'm several months tardy with this post. Battaglini and Roth both gave me their opinions soon after the law was passed in July.
  • Re-sealable beer? That's another tale for another day.

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