- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Maryland wine connoisseurs will soon be able to bring their favorite bottle along when they dine at many restaurants.

The new law is one of hundreds that will go into effect Sunday, ranging from new policies on restaurant practices to increases in the state’s income, cigar and flush taxes.

The wine law will allow participating restaurants, clubs and hotels that serve alcohol to let patrons bring their own wine and pay a fee in return — a practice commonly known as corkage.

Proponents say corkage will bring added convenience for oenophiles and help restaurants attract new customers and compete with establishments in Virginia and the District that already allow the practice.

“It clearly does have a positive impact on bringing more people into a restaurant,” said Delegate Jolene N. Ivey, Prince George’s Democrat. “If you’re on a budget and still want a nice bottle of wine with dinner, maybe you’ll be more likely to go to a restaurant if you can bring your own.”

The law is one of many alcohol-related laws that will go on the books Sunday, including legislation to allow distillery tours and permit many restaurants and brewers in Howard County and Baltimore to sell and fill “growlers” — large refillable draft-beer containers. Restaurants will also be allowed to operate with their doors or windows open.

Other new laws include a 12-year extension of a tax credit for businesses that create new jobs and a requirement that residents file their tax returns online in order to receive certain credits.

A revenue bill passed during last month’s special session will also go into effect, raising income-tax rates on the state’s top 12 percent of earners and doubling the state’s $2.50-a-month flush tax, which helps to pay for maintenance of sewage-treatment facilities.

Legalizing corkage will make Maryland the 27th state where patrons can bring their own wine to certain alcohol-serving restaurants, according to the advocacy group Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws.

The state currently bars the practice at any establishment with a liquor license, but most counties allow full-service restaurants without liquor licenses to institute a bring-your-own-bottle policy.

Under the new law, establishments with licenses will have the choice of requesting a free corkage permit from their local liquor board, which would allow them to charge a fee to any customer who brings his or her own wine. The District’s corkage law allows restaurants to charge as much as $25, but Maryland’s law does not set a limit.

While the General Assembly passed the law almost unanimously — only a handful of House Republicans dissented — there has been some resistance from the alcohol and restaurant industries.

The Restaurant Association of Maryland successfully fought against several local corkage bills in 2011, arguing that allowing customers to bring their own wine would cut into restaurant wine sales and diminish the value of a liquor license.

The group conducted a survey of member restaurants last year that showed more than 60 percent opposed corkage and nearly 75 percent reported few if any of their customers have expressed interest in bringing their own wine.

However, the association dropped its opposition this year, and supporters contend that establishments that object will have the option of not participating.

“The law doesn’t require it,” said Adam Borden, president of Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws. “The restaurants that have been asked to do this in the past have been relieved that they can finally offer this and not risk losing their liquor license.”

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