ANNAPOLIS - Maryland wine aficionados will soon have the chance to pop their cork of choice at their favorite eateries.
The General Assembly is poised to pass a so-called corkage law that would allow Marylanders to bring wine from home to their favorite restaurant, club and hotel.
The House of Delegates and Senate have passed identical bills that would permit the practice despite years of resistance from the restaurant and liquor industries. According to officials, the lone remaining hurdle is just procedural, as lawmakers in both chambers are overwhelmingly supportive of the idea.
"Legalizing corkage won't cure cancer, but it does give Marylanders the freedom to bring their favorite bottle of wine to a restaurant that allows it," said Del. Jolene Ivey, D- Prince George's County, one of the bill's sponsors. "This law puts Maryland on equal footing with what's already the law in D.C. and Virginia. Maryland will now have this additional tool to help increase business during these challenging economic times."
The foundation for the bill's passage was cemented when the Maryland Restaurant Association, which opposed the measure last year, said that it would not come out against the proposal this year. And with Virginia passing a similar law in 2011, Maryland officials were under increased pressure to bring the state in line with the commonwealth and Washington, D.C.
Maryland's alcoholic beverage industry remains opposed to the law.
Right now, corkage in Maryland is solely allowed in BYOB establishments. Under the coming law, local liquor boards will grant licenses to establishments that want to permit the practice.
Supporters of the law said that economic incentives won over officials looking for any way to squeeze dollars from underperforming local wineries and restaurants.
"Corkage gives a lot more flexibility to people who want to celebrate special occasions or go out and not spend as much money," said Adam Borden, president of Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws. "And it helps restaurants make the best decision for them. It's like BYOB laws, and there's no way a restaurant can carry every wine a consumer wants to drink."
The law allows restaurant owners to set a corkage fee at their discretion. The failed bill from last year recommended that owners charge between $5 and $25.