Email Vesta
Blog Home Page

Welcome to the Sonoma County Gazette ARCHIVE of PAST EDITIONS. Our NEW WEBSITE is up and running, so GazExtra is serving as your path to archived articles. Thanks for being part of our Sonoma County community...stay in touch...e-mail me - VESTA

Sunday, July 13, 2008

WINE BANTER - BYOB & Corkage Fees

Wine Etiquette: BYOB & Corkage Fees

Due to the number of well-received responses I received when I first wrote on this topic several years ago, I decided to do an update, especially relevant with so many new area restaurants.

Similar to driving manners, wine etiquette seems to be an endangered presence. A frequent question I’ve received concerns bringing your own wine when dining out. In an attempt to assert some decorum, we’ll look at this custom: BYOB and corkage fees.

It would be an act of infamy, living in grape utopia, not to occasionally bring one or more of your favorite wines to your eatery of choice. Although there is no universal protocol, there is an appropriateness to BYOB.

Certainly, corkage fees are a fair concept given restaurants’ thought, time, and expense maintaining a diverse inventory of wines compatible to their menu. Also, there is the additional time of the presentation of your wine with glassware, monitoring refill needs, and pouring. Some restaurants, other than furnishing the wine glasses, will leave the refills and pouring to you. Unless the corkage fee is above $15, I consider this to be a labor of love.

First, target your restaurant and call ahead keeping in mind not all will be BYOB friendly. As screenwriter and director, James Orr succinctly delineated, restaurants generally assume one of the following modes:

1. Gracious welcome (corkage fees waived)
2. Fraternal welcome ($2 - $15 which includes most of Sonoma County)
3. Reluctant welcome ($25 - $50 which includes Napa’s French Laundry)
4. Rude welcome (prohibits BYOB)

He goes on to propose that the corkage fee should never be more than twice the cost of the least expensive wine by the glass. For example, “if wine by the glass costs $7, corkage should be no more than $14.”

Although I’ve yet to find number four in Sonoma County, I have occasioned the “rude welcome” outside of California, especially in some areas of Florida where the “corkage fee” concept is alien. I generally telephone ahead and ask, “If wine is allowed to be brought in, what is the corkage fee?”

Second, it would be helpful if you had some knowledge of the entrees so you have an idea of what varietal to bring. When this isn’t feasible, I sometimes bring both a favorite red and white. If it is a spicy Eastern fare, don’t forget considering a nice, dry or semi-dry Gewurztraminer or Reisling.

Third, when calling, determine – unless you have access to the restaurant’s wine list – that the wine you are bringing isn’t offered by the restaurant. The establishment may consider it to be a base offense to bring a wine that is on their wine list. This can be ascertained during your reservation. When alerting the establishment, give the name of the winery, varietal, and vintage you intend to bring.

Fourth – and probably more important than above – don’t bring an inexpensive wine just to circumvent the restaurant’s wine charges. This rather pedestrian act will alert the staff to tag you and your guests as the great unwashed. You will forever carry this stigma to every establishment within communication of the restaurant you offended. Once shamed, you might as well brown bag your grape and slink into your favorite bowling alley.

Fifth, always make a magnanimous gesture to offer a taste to your server. Solicit and share notes of the wine. This can go a long way in developing a cordial relationship and increase the quality of service with your server. It was during a similar exchange that I had the restaurant’s chef come over to the table and serve a platter of gratis appetizers – including goat cheese – to go with a discernibly tannic petite syrah.

Sixth – and this is rather superfluous but visibly aesthetic – bring your wine in a container or carrier that doesn’t broadcast “brown bag.” Many wine stores carry such wine accessories.

In a random telephone survey of some of Sonoma County’s restaurants, I came up with the following fees:
Bay View - Bodega Bay - $14
Bistro des Copains - Occidental - $15
Bistro Ralph - Healdsburg - $15 (donated to charity)
Café Portofino - Santa Rosa - $15
Cape Fear - Duncan Mills - $10
Elmo’s Steakhouse - Sebastopol - $15
Farm House Inn - Forestville - $35
French Garden - Sebastopol - $15
GTO’s Seafood House - Sebastopol - $15
Highland Dell = Monte Rio - $15
John Ash = Santa Rosa - $20
Lucas Wharf - Bodega Bay - $10
Manzanita - Healdsburg - Free if Healdsburg wine
Mosaic Restaurant - Forestville - $18 (free on Mondays)
Peter Lowell’s - Sebastopol - $15
Seaweed Café - Bodega Bay - none
Stella’s - Forestville - $15
Tides Wharf - Bodega Bay - $14
Triple R Bar & Grill - Guerneville - $10
Underwood Bar & Bistro - Graton - $15
Union Hotel - Occidental - $10
Valley Ford Hotel - Valley Ford - $10 Sonoma County Wines, $15 other wines, free on Wednesdays
Village Inn & Restaurant - Monte Rio - $15
Willie’s Seafood - Healdsburg - $15

Note: When purchasing your wine from Sophie’s Cellars in Monte Rio, there is no corkage fee when presenting your wine receipt at the following restaurants: Applewood Inn, Bistro Des Copains, Café Les Jumelles, Cazadero Lodge, Charizma, Mosaic, Triple R, and the Village Inn. Area menus are also available at Sophie’s to make it easier to select the right wine.