New wine laws decriminalize our old behaviors


Home delivery: BYOB is now legal in Virginia. (Helayne Seidman for The Washington Post)

Virginia’s corkage law takes effect on July 1, making it legal for restaurants to allow patrons to bring their own wine. If you were unaware that Virginia banned BYOB at licensed restaurants, you may be forgiven. The law had never really been enforced, as this quote from Richmond.com illustrates:

According to Phillip Bogenberger of the Virginia ABC, “[there have been no] instances where [ABC has] issued citations for violations of the law prohibiting bringing in wine from outside restaurants.”

Virginia ABC seems to like the new law. The agency even created a Facebook page for it. But before you pack your [yellow tail] and head to Restaurant Eve, there are some things you should know:

The law is voluntary. Restaurants may let you bring in your own wine, but they don’t have to.

Restaurants may charge a fee per bottle, and the law does not set a limit on that fee. (The District of Columbia limits corkage to $25 per bottle, though that doesn’t seem to be enforced, either.)

There’s an etiquette to corkage, ably spelled out by Virginia blogger Frank Morgan at DrinkWhatYouLike.com. The main points:

* Call the restaurant to see if managers will welcome your bottle and ask their fee

* Don’t bring a wine that’s on their list

* Offer the sommelier or your server a taste of that special bottle from your collection.

Across the Potomac, Maryland diners are still not allowed to take their own wine to restaurants; the Maryland legislature blocked an effort to allow that this year. But lawmakers did approve direct shipping, which means we can have bottles shipped from out-of-state wineries straight to our homes. Starting Friday, when the law takes effect, we will no longer need to make furtive trips across the border to retrieve a coveted case delivered to a friend’s house (and paying the exorbitant one-bottle “buddy tax”). No more “personal deliveries” to our offices in the District, either. And no more UPS shipments from Napa County prominently marked, “OLIVE OIL”.

There won’t be a flood of deliveries right away, of course, as wineries must apply for permits to send bottles to Maryland residents. The comptroller’s office posted permit applications online this month, and about a dozen permits have been issued already, with more in the works, according to Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association. ShipCompliant, a firm that helps wineries navigate the morass of state regulations on shipping, posted more information about the Maryland permits on its blog.

Dave McIntyre is the wine columnist for The Washington Post. He also blogs at dmwineline.com.
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