Wine law brings ‘Maryland into the 21st century’

Bottles of wine are stored in the wine cellar, nicknamed "the cave," at Black Ankle Vineyards in Mount Airy. (Frederick News-Post)

A battle between wine lovers and Maryland legislators was finally settled in the most recent session of the General Assembly.

After nearly unanimous Senate and House votes, restaurants that have liquor licenses will soon be able to get an additional permit from their local liquor board allowing customers to bring their own wine to drink during a meal, a practice called “corkage.”

Sen. Ronald Young voted for the bill, as well as all of Frederick County’s representatives in the House of Delegates. Sen. David Brinkley was absent for the vote.

The law goes into effect July 1, but it does not affect restaurants without liquor licenses. Those establishments can already allow customers to bring their own alcohol if they so choose. The law also has a few stipulations. For instance, the customer’s wine cannot also be for sale on the restaurant’s wine list. Each participating establishment can also set some of its own policies regarding corkage, such as what fee to charge customers who take advantage of the privilege.

Adam Borden, president of Marylanders for Better Beer & Wine Laws, said corkage fees at fine dining restaurants are usually between $20 and $25 while more casual establishments typically charge between $5 and $15.

Borden also said this change and other recent ones have “brought Maryland into the 21st century” regarding its regulations on alcohol.

Another step in the right direction came last year, when a law was passed allowing wineries to ship directly to in-state customers, he said.

“The next issue on the horizon would seem to be whether Maryland consumers can or should be able to buy spirits in grocery and chain stores.”

Wine enthusiasts and restaurant owners are happy with the changes that have made it through so far.

Hilda Staples, co-owner of Volt restaurant in Frederick, said the restaurant looks forward to offering corkage as soon as it becomes legal.

“We have so many celebrations (at Volt),” she said. “Graduations, anniversaries. People save up that really special bottle of wine for years to enjoy with their friends or family. … Now they can also bring their bottle to Maryland and have the same privilege they had in our neighboring borders.”

Corkage is already legal in the District of Columbia and Virginia.

For wine drinkers, “it’s such a great thing to go out to a restaurant and bring a special bottle,” said Ed Boyce, owner of Black Ankle Vineyard in Mount Airy. “As a business owner, it’s not like we’re going to sell a lot more wine because of this.”

However, the evolving laws in Maryland are “good for the industry,” he said.

Borden agreed. Those who pushed for the legislation had a desire to keep Maryland on par with surrounding areas.

“I think that anything that helps us build more of a wine culture in Maryland … the more we can build on that, the better it is for us,” Boyce said.

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