This week I received the latest issue of the Yakima Valley Business Times. Front and center was a story about the Washington State Liquor Control Board (LCB) informing local restaurants and wineries that participate in a ‘corkage free zone’ to basically cease and desist the practice. As the program was developed, wine purchased at Gilbert Cellars, Kana Winery, Tim’s Downtown Tasting Room, and Stems could be brought to various downtown restaurants that will waive the corkage fees. All that was required was that the wine be purchased the same day and that a receipt be shown for proof of purchase.
As reported in the Business Times, Captain Jennifer Dzubay of the LCB’s non-retail enforcement division wrote in a letter to wineries and participating restaurants that “a winery cannot negotiate with retailers to waive a corkage fee. Retailers cannot waive corkage fee for particular wineries to entice their customers to purchase wine from a winery… no industry member or retailer shall enter into any agreement which causes undue influence over another retailer or industry member.”
The paper reports that Jean Leonard, director of government affairs with the Washington Wine Institute (WWI), disagrees and is seeking a reversal of the ruling.
Personally I think stopping the corkage free program would be a great disservice to both the wineries and restaurants. While I do not know the intricacies of the law, certainly there should be a way to let this program continue to the benefit of the wineries, restaurants and downtown.
I have sent an email to the organizer of the project, Jar Arcand of Santiagos Restaurant, for his view on the ruling and where things go from here. Stay tuned for updates.
UPDATE (1-1-11): Heard back from Jar. He has approached local legislators and the Washington Restaurant Association regarding possible legislative action to address the issue.
UPDATE (1-6-11): Sean Sullivan, editor of the Washington Wine Report, has been digging further on this issue and has some timely updates, including new information from the WA Liquor Control Board. Read the articles here. The Yakima Herald Republic is doing an article and we’ll post a link as soon as it is up.
UPDATE: (1-16-11): Compromise announced Friday, LCB finds way for programs to continue. Story in the Yakima Herald Republic.
UPDATE: (1-20-11). The Washington Wine Institute (WWI) sent an email yesterday with the following announcement: “WWI worked with LCB to come to a resolution that would allow such programs to continue, and hopefully flourish. Following many discussions with WWI, the LCB announced late yesterday (1-18-11) that a “corkage free” promotion would not violate current law (which specifically allows for wine tourism promotion between wineries and restaurants) if the program is open to allow all interested wineries and restaurants to participate.” Good news indeed!
UPDATE: (1-22-11) Yakima Herald Republic editorial.
UPDATE: (2-10-11) House Bill 1227 gets a positive hearing and is voted out of State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee last week. Referred to House Rules Committee, no action taken to date.
UPDATE (2-23-11): House Bill 1227 passed the House unanimously yesterday. Referred to Senate. . Companion bill SB 5173 is Rules Committee awaiting action.
UPDATE (4-8-11): The state Senate voted 45-4 earlier this week to pass House Bill 1227 and the Governor is expected to sign it into law in the coming weeks. Truly a reason to celebrate! Special thanks to Representative Charles Ross for sponsoring the legislation and local legislators for their help.