- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — They come for shrimp and prime rib at the waterside Chart House Annapolis restaurant, but many diners shy away from the bottles of wine.

They would have to finish the whole thing, then drive home, or leave behind some of the wine they bought.

A bill on its way to the governor’s desk would change that.

State lawmakers have approved a bill that would allow diners to take wine from restaurants, a change supporters hope will discourage drunken driving and boost wine sales.

That’s because diners wouldn’t be forced to drain an entire bottle or leave it behind in the restaurant.

“If people had that option, I’m sure they’d buy the bottle instead of two glasses,” said Chart House manager Rodney Seeberger, who said patrons often hesitate to order bottles.

Under the bill, diners who have wine left in a bottle could legally carry the bottle home as long as it’s properly closed up by the restaurant and they get a receipt to show when it was purchased and that the wine accompanied a meal.

The catch is that the bottle would still violate open container alcohol laws, so wine enthusiasts would have to stow the bottle in their trunk or glove compartment, away from the passenger area, before driving.

The measure passed unanimously this week in both chambers of the legislature, despite a few curious questions about carting home open bottles of alcohol.

If Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, signs the bill, the doggie-bag wine measure would take effect in July.

About half of the states already allow wine carryout from restaurants under similar circumstances, said Melvin Thompson of the Restaurant Association of Maryland.

His group pushed for the bill after hearing from restaurants that their wine sales may rise if diners felt more comfortable buying bottles.

“Most customers shy away from buying wine by the bottle because they don’t feel they can consume the whole thing and drive home safely,” he said.

“We believe that this will discourage overdrinking and also help restaurants sell more wine by the bottle. I think legislators realized this is a great idea.”

Across town from the Chart House, at Pesce Grande Italian restaurant, manager Austin Peters pulled out a wine list — more like a wine book — and showed how many of the 60 or more varieties are available only by the bottle, not by the glass.

“We get it all the time, people don’t want the bottle,” Mr. Peters said. “Some people only want a glass or two, but it’s $7 a glass or $20 a bottle.”

The sponsor of the bill — Sen. Ida G. Ruben, Montgomery Democrat — said drunken-driving opponents also favored the bill.

“It just struck me this might be another way to stop people from consuming too much before driving,” Mrs. Ruben said.

“People buy a very expensive bottle of wine, and they feel like they have to finish it before they leave because they paid for it. So now they wouldn’t feel compelled to finish it.”

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