"Uncorking" bill would allow bring-your-own-wine option

Senator Griggs told The Daily Times on Wednesday that he hopes the measure, if passed, would not discourage buying wine locally.

Leigh Black Irvin,
Server Danielle Ekhoff uncorks a bottle of wine at St. Clair Winery & Bistro in Farmington on Tuesday. The New Mexico Legislature is considering a bill that would allow patrons to bring their own wine to consume in restaurants that decide to allow the practice. Some restaurants would prefer customers purchase wine sold on the premises.

FARMINGTON — Diners who prefer to bring their own bottle of wine into a restaurant may soon be able to do so if a bill that is headed to the New Mexico House of Representatives passes.

The bill, sponsored by Senator Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo, passed the Senate today according to a release provided by the New Mexico Senate Office.

Specifically, Senate Bill 58 would allow a business with a liquor license to open a customer's own bottle of wine and serve it to them for a fee.

"Let's uncork New Mexico," said Griggs in the release. "Let's open it up to more business opportunities. This bill offers more flexibility to our New Mexico businesses. They can offer another service their customers can take advantage of. Instead of restricting business, we want to open them up to more ways to earn a profit, so they can, in turn, hire more New Mexicans."

Griggs provided an example of a couple celebrating a special occasion, such as an anniversary, that might wish to bring a special bottle of wine that is not on a restaurant's menu to enjoy with their meal.

Several local restaurant managers weighed in on the bill.

Georgianna Martinez has worked at Olive Garden on East Main Street for the past seven years, and currently serves as the restaurant's culinary manager.

"I don't see why not," Martinez said, when asked whether she believes her restaurant would embrace this option. "We want to cater to our guests to make them happy, and I don't see it being a problem."

Martinez pointed out that Olive Garden sells their own wine and would prefer that guests purchase their wine, but acknowledged there are wine brands that they do not offer.

"It's just about being responsive to the customers," she said.  

Tony Lake is the general manager for No Worries Sports Bar and Grill, located next to the Four Corners Regional Airport in Farmington.

Lake said that his establishment would probably be more receptive to this type of bill because of the nature of the alcohol they serve.

"I think when it comes to my kind of bar — which is a sports bar with limited wine options — if people wanted to bring in a certain kind of wine, that wouldn't bother me," he said. "We would definitely charge the corking fee, and I would only allow it with wine — I wouldn't want to see it turn into a BYOB thing."

Shilo Pratt, manager for Rubia's Restaurant in Aztec, said the bring-your-own-wine option would probably not be welcome in her establishment.

"Here, probably not," said Pratt. "We already sell (beer and wine) and we want people to buy ours."

Senator Griggs told The Daily Times on Wednesday that he hopes the measure, if passed, would not discourage buying wine locally.

"In many instances, for restaurants who have a reduced inventory, this is an opportunity to bring in a bottle of high-end wine," said Griggs. "The restaurant has two options: they can charge a corking fee they think is fair, say $10 or $15, or they can decide to not allow people to bring in their own wine. It's the business' choice."

Griggs said the legislature has heard much testimony on the subject, including from a restaurant owner in California whose establishment offers the uncorking option who says it has increased his business.

"From his experience, it has actually grown his clientele," said Griggs. "I know there won't be a big, mad rush (if the bill passes), but it's a form of deregulation that we feel will provide opportunities."

According to the release, the bill requires restaurant employees to comply with all other requirements of the Liquor Control Act. If passed, the bill would allow the customer to leave the restaurant with a partially-consumed wine bottle provided he or she has purchased and consumed a portion of a meal, and provided they have a copy of the receipt for the meal and a note attached to the partially-consumed bottle of wine identifying it as their own bottle. The bottle must be corked and sealed in a tamper-proof bag when leaving the restaurant. 

Leigh Black Irvin is the business editor for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621.