NOTE: This piece was originally released for publication in January, 2016. You can read it here as well.
Do you have an expensive bottle of wine you’ve been holding onto — one that you’d love to uncork at your favorite restaurant on a special occasion? What about a special case of beer or cider?
In 2011, the General Assembly passed a law allowing Virginians to bring a bottle of wine into a restaurant and have it uncorked to be served with their meal, usually for a fee at the restaurateur’s discretion. Now legislators are considering a bill to expand the corkage law to beer and cider.
“Beer seems to be the new thing if you will, and cider is the excitement of what the future will bring,” said the bill’s sponsor, Del. David Yancey, R-Newport News. “Virginia is in a great position because we have outstanding apples, and we’ve got young people that are really excited about the possibilities that beer has.”
His measure, House Bill 706, was approved 7-0 last week by a subcommittee of the House General Laws Committee. The full committee will now consider it.
When the corkage law was initially proposed five years ago, it was opposed by the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association. The association raised concerns that restaurants would face pressure from patrons to offer corkage, as has happened in other states.
The group’s fears did not come to pass in Virginia after the 2011 legislation, sponsored by Sen. Jeffrey McWaters, R-Virginia Beach, took effect. Instead, the issue with the state’s corkage law seems to be a lack of awareness that it exists.
“What we’ve seen since the Virginia legislation was passed is that there really are only a small number of people that take advantage of the ability to bring their own wines into a restaurant,” said lobbyist Thomas Lisk, who was instrumental in the passage of the original law.
A small sample of restaurateurs in Virginia seemed to agree. Some were not aware of the law. Most offered a small corkage fee but said they don’t have many customers requesting corkage.
“We usually charge the price of whatever the cheapest bottle of wine is on our list — like 20 bucks,” said Bruce Rowland, co-owner of Rowland Fine Dining in Richmond.
“For me, corkage law is such a non-issue because it’s so rare that someone does bring in their own wine. But I’d certainly want to charge corkage for beer and cider as well, because I’ve got beer and cider and I want to sell them.”
Yancey said he had not seen an ambivalence regarding corkage. He said his bill was inspired by the booming craft brewing industry in Virginia and the potential for growth in the cider industry.
“The appreciation for well-made beer, for many people, is the equivalent of the appreciation people have for well-made wines,” Yancey said.
Lisk expressed doubts that the bill would be a net gain for small brewers in Virginia.
“I don’t speak for them, but from the brewery perspective, I’m not sure how advantageous it would be,” he said. “Frankly, we’re seeing so many of the craft breweries — particularly Virginia craft breweries — with their beers on tap in lots of restaurants and really squeezing out a lot of the major brewers.”