BYOB is now A-O.K. in VA


 As of last Friday, wine drinkers have another cellar to choose from when dining at a restaurant: their own. The newly passed “Corkage Bill” allows restaurants with liquor licenses to serve a wine brought by a customer for a fee set by the restaurant. Legislators see BYOB as incentive for consumers to dine out in an economy with a belt on the tightest notch. Local wineries can sell their wines to tourers and tasters dining out later, and wine shops in commercial areas will likely get shoppers looking to save some cash before their 8pm ressies. But how do the restaurants feel about this new dam in their biggest revenue stream?

Fleurie and Petit Pois owner Brian Helleberg thinks the new corkage law will force local restaurants to price wine more competitively.


While Brian Helleberg, owner of Fleurie and Petit Pois, initially felt that the law “isn’t great for restaurants,” he reconsidered, stating that it will force restaurants to be more competitive with their wine pricing, which he admits “can get pretty outrageous.” When we spoke, Helleberg was undecided on his corkage fee, but was leaning towards $15 at Petit Pois (and only $10 for Virginia wines) and $20 at Fleurie, where the quality of the stemware and wine service merits a higher price. “Of course, we’ll also welcome patrons celebrating special occasions with wines from their birth year or wedding year.”

Tastings’ Bill Curtis, who represents a unique perspective as the owner of both a wine shop and a restaurant, looks forward to serving (and tasting) diners’ special bottles. “I have over $100K in inventory and already offer diners any bottle from my shelves at retail price plus $7 for corkage, so I expect that any wine coming in will be something remarkable.” Curtis will charge $15 for a customer’s wine and would like to have it a day in advance so that he can store it and serve it with the same care as he would a wine from his own collection. That is, after all, part of the service you are paying for.

Aside from diners, it seems that those with the most to gain from BYOB are the Virginia wineries, where the cost of operation requires prices higher than many consumers are willing to pay. “People’s reluctance to accept Virginia wines comes from their relatively high cost, which is only exaggerated in a restaurant setting,” says Andrew Hodson, owner of Veritas Winery. “Now people can enjoy our wine at a fancy restaurant for a more affordable price,” Hodson reasons. He expects that corkage will encourage the flow of wine and is excited to take advantage of it as a consumer, too. “I refuse to pay a ridiculous markup, so now I’ll be much more likely to dine out,” he says.

What’s important to remember is that restaurants offer BYOB as a courtesy, so in the spirit of fostering good corkage relations, here are some etiquette tips to ensure BYOB merriment to all.

1. Call first.
You wouldn’t bring 12 people to your eight-person reservation, so don’t show up toting bottles unannounced. Let the restaurant know what wine (and how many bottles) you plan to bring. That way, they can be prepared with necessary glassware as well as an alternative in the event that your wine is flawed. This will also address many restaurants’ policy of not extending corkage to wines they carry.
2. Find out the fee in advance.
Since the service and the fee are at each restaurant’s discretion, find out the cost ahead of time. The range in our area is $15-35 with a $20 average, but the legal maximum is $75. You wouldn’t want to find yourself in a fisticuffs after a lovely meal.
3. Save your cheap bottles for home.
I’m all for cheap wine, but don’t bring it to a restaurant. Even their least expensive wine is likely to be more interesting than what you’d find at a grocery store, so ordering off the menu is still a better deal (and far less gauche) than paying them $20 to open your $5.99 bottle of Yellow Tail.
4. Give the sommelier some love.
Sommeliers take pride in their wine lists and since you’ve snubbed their choices in lieu of your own, offering a taste of your special wine shows respect and fellowship. Winos love to geek out over collectible gems, so even if your sommelier declines, she will appreciate the gesture.
5. Bring one, buy one.
Don’t abuse the BYOB privilege—limit yourself to two bottles and for every bottle you bring, buy one from the restaurant. Abiding by this unwritten rule of good taste may even mean that your corkage fee gets waived.