Frederick Restaurants, Wineries Hopeful that Corkage, Shipping Laws Change During Upcoming Session
Some say current laws are hurting business
By Courtney Pomeroy
Friday, Jan. 7, 2011
After her downtown Frederick restaurant, Volt, was reprimanded by the Frederick County Liquor Control Board for allowing a customer to bring his own bottle of wine to drink, co-owner Hilda Staples has joined the fight to change state laws.
Staples said several restaurants in the state are supporting the change of current "corkage" laws during the 2011 session of the Maryland General Assembly, which starts Wednesday.
Maryland restaurants with liquor licenses cannot allow patrons to bring their own bottles of wine and have them opened there for a fee, as some other states do. "We had no idea of [the corkage] law," Staples said. "We just see it as an impediment to customer service. We don't see why they shouldn't be allowed to."
Maryland's corkage laws and shipping laws, which prevent wineries in Maryland from mailing their products to customers, are outdated, several Frederick County winery and restaurant owners say, and they are eager to have them changed.
According to Kathy Vahle, Frederick County Liquor Board administrator, both laws have been in place since the prohibition era. They are part of the state's "three-tier system of distribution," which requires alcoholic beverages to go from the manufacturer to a wholesaler to a retailer.
While Vahle said many states are still under this system, Maryland is one of only 13 states that does not permit shipping, according to a recent report on direct wine shipment released by the Comptroller of Maryland.
"I can ship out of state but, if you live in Maryland, I can't ship to you," said Charlie Daneri, co-owner of Frederick Cellars on East Street in Frederick. "Shipping is dictated by where you live, not where the winery is.
"Maryland customers will call us and ask for shipping, especially during the holiday," Daneri added, noting that the winery is missing out on business because of the law. "We would like to see Maryland come in line with the 38 other states that allow shipping," he said.
But Daneri noted that he's more interested in seeing the law change as a consumer than as the owner of a winery. Although a small winery near his son's home in Southern California makes a wine he loves, "I can't get their wine here in Maryland at all," he said.
Del.-elect Kelly Schulz (R-Dist. 4A) said she has been appointed to the House Economic Matters Committee, which handles alcohol distribution issues. Although corkage and shipping "are two totally separate issues," she is "keeping an open mind" about both of them, she said. She acknowledges that she's gotten a lot of feedback that indicates many people in her district support changing the laws.
District 4A covers all of northern Frederick County, including Myersville, Middletown and New Market. It does not include the City of Frederick, Urbana or Mount Airy.
Although she will not decide either way until she learns more about the topic during session, she tends to agree with Daneri's sentiment: "No one anticipates that [changing the laws] is going to hurt anyone," Daneri said.
Staples added that there is some concern that restaurants in Virginia and Washington, D.C., allow corkage and that fact might deter customers from coming to Maryland businesses.
"We'd rather have them come here to us," she said. "We don't want that to be what's stopping them from coming in."
Staples added that Volt and some other Maryland restaurants recently wrote a letter to the Restaurant Association of Maryland asking for its support to get the law changed.
The association's government affairs committee plans to meet Monday to discuss the corkage issue, among others.