Maryland lawmakers may not have been able to solve the state’s budget woes during this year’s session, but they did hand wine lovers another gift. A year after approving direct-to-consumer shipping from wineries, lawmakers approved a bill that will allow “corkage,” the practice of bringing your own wine to restaurants.
Governor Martin O’Malley (D) signed the bill into law on Tuesday, just a year after he signed legislation allowing wineries to ship bottles directly to Maryland residents without going through a wholesaler or retailer.
Allowing corkage will bring Maryland into line with the District of Columbia, which has allowed the practice for years, as well as Virginia, which legalized it last year (though implementation has been uneven).
The law contains three conditions, none of which should be restrictive, says Adam Borden, president of Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws, a lobbying group that fought hard for both direct shipping and corkage.
Those provisions are that underage or intoxicated persons should not be served, even their own wine (duh!); a wine already on the restaurant’s list may not be brought in (a basic element of “corkage etiquette” widely practiced by wine lovers already); and that restaurants must obtain a permit from their local liquor board, at no cost.
Borden says that last proviso is likely to be “a check-off box on a restaurant’s liquor license” rather than a Trojan horse that would allow abstemious county authorities to block the practice.
“I don’t think liquor boards will want to mess with some arduous standard for issuing a permit,” Borden said in an e-mail.
That makes sense, especially since corkage will be used primarily by wine collectors seeking to enjoy a special bottle with food from a favorite chef. Although if more people brought moderately priced, currently available wines, restaurants might see what their customers are enjoying and diversify their lists. Prices might come down, too. That would be a win-wine for diners and restaurants — more wine business, and better prices and selection.
Some things to remember: Restaurants will be able to allow you to bring wine in, but they are not required to do so. Even after the law takes effect on July 1, it will be advisable to call ahead and ask whether the restaurant will welcome your wine and what fee they will charge for opening it and serving it to you. The Maryland law does not specify a minimum or maximum fee.
One restaurant welcoming the change is Volt, Bryan Voltaggio’s high-end restaurant in Frederick.
“Volt is a destination restaurant for many of our guests, and based on our nightly reservations, many choose to celebrate a big occasion with us,” says Volt’s wine director, Jill Zimorski. “If not being able to bring in a special bottle of wine from home would send them elsewhere, then I’m glad that is no longer an issue we have to contend with.”