The Question of Wine Corkage Fees in a World Askew

somI want to recommend W. Blake Gray’s article at WineSearcher.com entitled, “Does the French Laundry Have the World’s Highest Corkage Fee.

In it Blake explores the $150 Corkage Fee charged at The French Laundry, as well as at Per Se. It’s a good article that shines some light on the wide variation in corkage fees across restaurants and asks us to consider both the purpose and the value behind corkage fee.

I’m quoted in the article calling the corkage fee “gauging” and I suggest such a fee gives wine service at fine wine restaurants a bad name. I’ve dined at the French Laundry twice, though not in the past decade. Both time were pretty marvelous experiences. However, I think the best thing that can be said about a $150 corkage fee at the French Laundry is that it’s remarkable they feel it’s a fair price.

My primary concern surrounding the issue of corkage fees has been that there are some state that simply don’t allow it. It’s illegal. These states are dwindling, but they still exist. A restaurant should have the right to allow diners to bring in their own wines and they should have the right to charge whatever they please…even $150 per bottle. What’s interesting is that when in these anti-corkage fee states the issue comes up for debate due to a bill being offered to legalize it, opposition almost always come from restaurants who don’t want to offer the service but feel like if it is legalized they will be forced to in order to compete with other restaurants that would allow diners to bring wine into the restaurant.

As I thought about the idea of a $150 fee for the privilege of bringing a bottle of wine into a restaurant, I tried to imagine how it would be justified. What service would be rendered that justified the fee. Clearly it would not boil down to a sommelier helping determine what wine to pair with what dish. That decision is already made. The wine is identified and in hand. Perhaps the glasses are so absurdly good that it would enhance the dining and sipping experience to a new height. Perhaps the sommelier can pour wine like nobodies business. Or perhaps the value is found in the privilege of drinking my own wine in a pinnacle restaurant. I don’t know how to put a value on all these different things. But I do know the value is not equal to $150 in my world.

But everything is relative. There is a market for everything. So, maybe it’s my world that is askew.


44 Responses

  1. Cynthia Cosco - April 29, 2014

    Your opinion…not askew at all…(in my humble opinion) ;-)

  2. Thomas Pellechia - April 29, 2014

    I’m no fan of restaurants that charge too much for the wine on their wine lists; when i find myself in that situation, I drink beer or water–and I might not return. On the other hand, I’ve never understood why a restaurant should be dissed for not allowing diners to bring their own wine or for charging whatever they want for the privilege.

    Should customers be allowed to bring their own food to a restaurant because they don’t like what’s on the menu?

    Maybe customers at theatrical events should bring their own performers.

  3. Tom Wark - April 29, 2014

    Thomas, I don’t have a problem with restaurants that choose not to allow wine to be brought in. It ought to be there choice. I have a problem when they are not given a choice.

  4. Ryan - April 29, 2014

    My initial reaction is that the fee is so punitive so as to discourage anybody from ever bringing their own bottle. Maybe that is the restaurants point, allow you to bring your own bottle, however make the fee so excessively high that you just won’t ever attempt to do it. I would hope that their wine list is reasonably priced and they have some great selections.

  5. Tom Wark - April 29, 2014

    Ryan,

    Read the Wine Searcher article by Blake Gray….He discusses this very question you bring up.

  6. John Kelly - April 29, 2014

    On more than one occasion I’ve postulated that TKG could do the local dining scene a world of good by offering a program to train servers – the service at Laundry is impeccable. But $150 for corkage is not about the quality of service or the expense of the glassware.

    It’s all about the quality of Laundry’s wine list. A $150 corkage says “you are better off ordering off our list, but if you must bring in your own bottle it better be a damn expensive bottle.” Consider that the average $15 corkage is usually for bottles in the $50-$100 retail range – Laundry is expecting to have to open bottles from $500-$1000 and up.

    Some of these bottles might be old, with delicate corks. Think for a moment about the likely personality and temperament of a person who insists on bringing a $1000+ bottle of wine to Laundry, and how they might react of the cork crumbles in the server’s hands, or anything else goes awry.

    It would not surprise me at all to see corkage at Laundry go to $200-$250.

  7. Tom Wark - April 29, 2014

    John:

    I agree. The $150 is meant to be a deterrent.

  8. Thoams Pellechia - April 29, 2014

    John,

    You bring up a good point, re, the type of person who would bring wine to a restaurant, which is why I’ve never given the concept any breathing space.

    Instead of asking the restaurant to give up a profit center, if you don’t like the wine list eat somewhere else. Better still, if you believe that only you can come up with the proper wine for the menu, duplicate the menu at home and drink your wine selection to your heart’s content.

    Yes, Tom, I don’t like the state telling the restaurant what to do, but that isn’t the gist of Gray’s article; it’s your side issue.

  9. Holly Evans-White - April 29, 2014

    As a former (and future) restaurant owner, one of the Number One problems we face are folks that feel our restaurant is a community center of sorts. That good old annoying sense of entitlement.

    Tom was a good customer of ours in Glen Ellen and I’m certain Tom has no idea how many folks simply didn’t understand that every chair had a price on it, that our payroll, our rent, our food and bev costs, our taxes, etc… were huge.

    It was shocking when people would argue that it should be okay that they brought in some Chinese food they bought in Sonoma (because we didn’t offer Chinese food at our Bistro) and not be charged to use a plate and sit in a chair.

    This is corkage. As Tom may recall I had a 14 page wine list with an intentionally modest mark up (the lion’s share of our customers were locals; that was on purpose too). We had a small corkage (waved with purchase of bottle) – $12 I think – to help cover the rent of the chair and the glass and the server.

    We closed our restaurant in Glen Ellen 10 years ago. We eat out about 100 times per year and always have wine with dinner. We only bring our own bottle when the wine list is so atrocious (and so many, shockingly, even in the wine country are) that we are either unwilling to pay 4x retail for a wine we see at Safeway, or there are no good wines on the list. (If my husband makes it; we aren’t going to order it. He works for a big-box that owns over 20 labels and these wines are well represented at ghastly inflated prices throughout the country – Napa Valley & S.F. too – and this morning he was having trouble with the machine that shoots one of 200 additives into their wines.)

    Everyone complains when they lose their favorite restaurant, their home-town place (oh the sorrow when we closed our place in Glen Ellen), but the 20% who feel entitled to that free or very cheap chair that is actually very very expensive to the restaurant owner, are part of the problem. Support your local bistro; buy wine from them, communicate with them if you’d like to see better, more varied, less expensive, selections.

    As to The Laundry, part of that is indeed setting a deterrent (I am preparing to open a new restaurant and corkage is among our hottest hot topics in setting up our wine program), but as someone else stated; it is also a nod to their amazing wine list. I can’t afford to eat at the Laundry anymore (been over a decade for me too), but if I could, I wouldn’t dream of bringing in a bottle because I’d like the chance to try one of those beauties on their list I’d otherwise not be able to try. I appreciate the work that goes in to creating that list and storing those wines properly (stable refrigeration, darkness, annual tax-paid on aging bottles, power bills, etc… are all added factors in maintaining a wine cellar such as the Laundry has).

    Folks who gripe over thoughtful, hard-worked wine lists and well-done storage and excellent wine service have never owned a restaurant or sommed in one.

    Thanks Tom for waking me up this morning! :)

  10. Ron Washam, HMW - April 29, 2014

    Tom,
    I hate to do this, but I’m going to weigh in here, despite my better judgment. Corkage fee arguments are the same as 100 Point Scale arguments, tired and silly.

    Gray’s throwaway article is about as thoughtful as a fortune cookie fortune. Yes, French Laundry has an exorbitant corkage fee, but the reason you, and I, and everyone else who writes a wine blog hasn’t been there in decades isn’t the corkage fee, it’s the price of the meal. French Laundry is a restaurant for the 1%, and needs to act that way. $150 corkage fee is about image, not service, or quality of stemware. But it’s about other things as well.

    It also has a different problem than expensive restaurants in major cities. In LA, or NY, most of the clients at high end restaurants are coming from work–a lot of corporate business, executives eating dinner. Or it’s folks traveling, for work of vacation. They don’t have access to their wine cellars. They rely on the wine list for great wines. They just don’t see that many bottles brought into the restaurant, except for special occasions. In the heart of Napa Valley, everyone has wine. They own a winery, they work at one, they just bought a bunch from the tasting rooms–if French Laundry had a $50 corkage fee, they’d be swamped with bottles brought by customers, and lose a significant amount of money. They have shareholders who wouldn’t like this (and who probably don’t pay corkage fees). $150 seems crazy, but for a small, always sold out, famous, expensive, exclusive restaurant in Napa Valley, it’s damn near necessary. Peon wine writers can rattle their cage, but, truly, they’re far too busy, and we’re not at all their customer base.

    • Holly Evans-White - April 29, 2014

      Amen to Ron W! You are still the big brains in (food &) wine blogging. Agree with you completely.

    • Donn Rutkoff - April 30, 2014

      I agree with you Ron. If u can afford to eat at the Laundry, you can afford their $150, and you are willing to pay to bring your own DRC or 1st gro Bordeaux.

      I don’t know if any change recently, but Plumpjack restaurants group corkage is usually about $20 and markups are way low on their wine lists. Go there and have a good time 2 or 3 x a month. Find your own local restaurants with lo markups and visit them regularly. Probably also have nice staff & customer service.

  11. Tom Wark - April 29, 2014

    Ron,

    There’s no question that it’s part of a business model. But it’s hardly a necessary model, even in wine country. I see huge numbers of bottles of wine being purchased from lists at other very fine Napa restaurants with far lower corkage fees.

  12. Thomas Pellechia - April 29, 2014

    Tom, did you type this?: “I see huge numbers of bottles of wine being purchased from lists at other very fine Napa restaurants with far lower corkage fees.”

    I hope you don’t make all your decisions based on anecdotal evidence as weak as that one. Or do you have a permanent table at all these restaurants and you occupy each table–simultaneously–every night, from open to closing, at which time you peruse their books before going home.

  13. Ron Washam, HMW - April 29, 2014

    Tom,

    Other restaurants are not the French Laundry. Maybe Meadowood, and I have no idea what their corkage is, but I’m guessing it’s $100 or more. And you’re wrong, it absolutely is a necessary model for them. Not financially, perhaps, but certainly otherwise. And they don’t give a measly crap that you, or Blake, or anyone else is offended by it. You, and I, are not their crowd. It’s not financially necessary to charge $150 for a Napa Valley Cabernet either, but folks do it, and do it a lot, for the image it creates. We’re not their customers either.

    French Laundry is sold out every night of the week. Your “Napa Valley fine restaurants” are not. Many are bigger, and aimed at well-to-do tourists, not the 1%. I guarantee you French Laundry is proud, not embarrassed, to be the most expensive corkage in the country.

    Gray’s short piece, and yours, is like an episode of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” We get to drop our jaws at the audacity and the ostentation of it all. The French Laundry, and its regulars, really don’t give us a second thought. Honestly, we should return the favor.

  14. Tom Wark - April 29, 2014

    Ron, I understand the value of the corkage fee to the French Laundry. However, what I’m struggling with is the value delivered to the customer for $150. I’ve yet to see this explained. And it would be interesting to hear someone describe the value derived from paying a Som $150 to open a bottle of your wine at his restaurant.

  15. Terroirist: A Daily Wine Blog » Daily Wine News: Need To Know - April 30, 2014

    […] is that the markups on the Laundry’s wine list are truly beyond obscene.” Tom Wark tries to imagine how it’s […]

  16. Ron Washam, HMW - April 30, 2014

    Tom,
    A corkage fee, even one that’s $25, isn’t meant to be a “value” to the customer. There are many fine restaurants that simply do not allow customers to bring in bottles of wine under any circumstances. They don’t get torched like the French Laundry is here. They can say, “We don’t have a corkage fee.” and leave it at that. Believe me, most restaurants wish they could ban people from bringing in bottles of wine. They’re not legally obliged to. French Laundry simply says, “Sure, bring in a bottle, but it’s going to cost you.” Is anyone surprised that their corkage fee is so high? I’m certainly not.

    Asking to explain how a corkage fee adds value to a customer is silly. It doesn’t, and isn’t meant to. My guess is they only rarely need to enforce their $150 fee because folks don’t bring in bottles. Thus, it’s the equivalent, in a much snootier way, of banning bottles altogether.

    My question to you is, Why is this “gouging” when it’s optional, not required? It’s perhaps outrageous, but if you agree to it, it’s hardly “gouging.” In fact, having been a sommelier for way too long, I can tell you that most people who bring wine into a restaurant bring in rather pedestrian bottles in order to avoid paying wine list markups. It’s wine list markups that are the “gouging” in most cases. Especially when the list is shallow, the wines current releases and the storage inadequate. But, as Holly points out, that’s not true of French Laundry. A list like theirs is incredibly expensive to run and maintain. But those issues are for another day.

  17. Tom Wark - April 30, 2014

    Ron:

    You wrote: “A corkage fee, even one that’s $25, isn’t meant to be a “value” to the customer.”

    It doesn’t matter what it’s “meant” to be. A diner or consumer ALWAYS weighs the value of a cost, price or fee. it’s how people determine how they spend money. The consumer asks, “Is the $25 fee to bring in my own wine, have it opened and pour worth it?

    You wrote: “My question to you is, Why is this “gouging” when it’s optional, not required? It’s perhaps outrageous, but if you agree to it, it’s hardly “gouging.”

    Usually “gouging” is used in instances where a good is a necessity and the vendor of that good, knowing its a necessity, hikes up the prices well beyond what they normally sell it for in order to take advantage of some crisis that makes the good even more necessary. In this respect, your questioning of my use of the term “gouging” is justified. That said, “gouging” is a pretty powerful word. When people read it they associate it with pricing far, far beyond any reasonable measure of value and so over priced as to be absurd and ridiculous. That’s what I was going for.

  18. Thomas Pellechia - April 30, 2014

    Value in paying corkage fees seems to me like an oxymoron.

    Some go to great lengths to show that they have “taste”. Maybe for the chance to display their “taste” in a high-profile restaurant $150 is cheap to some–and maybe it shows the world that they have a lot of money to throw around to support their egos.

  19. Ron Marsilio - April 30, 2014

    Tom,
    I agree with you wholeheartedly, any restaurant should have the right to allow any patron to bring in wine and charge them for that service. Coming from a restaurant background and living in an East Coast city that is now enjoying a proliferation of BYOB’s, you find that the market will bear whatever charge is demanded. Our BYOB restaurants have been so popular and successful that those restaurants that do have liquor licenses are now allowing their customers to bring their own on designated nights of the week.

    . I did work in a Mobile Five Star establishment, much like the French Laundry, that had a world class wine list specializing in Burgundies, and from time to time someone would pull a rare specimen from their own wine cellar and, after consulting with the establishment, would then bring the wine in to be consumed with their dinner. I cannot recall anyone ever being rejected in their attempts at bringing in their own, however, it only happened on rare occasions and the management and ownership were always consulted first. No corkage fee was ever charged as far as I know.

    Again, I agree with you Tom, if a restaurant has a wine list and a lisence to sell alcoholic beverages, and allows customers to enjoy their own bottles, they should have the right to charge them for that service. It’s only fair, they are losing income for your convenience.

  20. Mike Mora - April 30, 2014

    There is a message here and both appear to have a sense of entitlement on both sides which would easily be resolved with a bit of consideration of the others. Since that won’t likely happen thus you see the overreaching on all parties attitudes. Generosity goes a long way and it odd that people need reminding.

    Generally there are four criteria for bringing wine into a restaurant;

    1. Always ask and indicate this a special request.
    2. Bring wine that is not likely to be available in marketplace.
    3. ALWAYS buy a bottle from the restaurant.
    4. Offer up glass to wait staffer & even bring extra bottle for staff.

    Rarely do you end up paying corkage and if you do, so what you’ve made a few new friends who won’t mind seeing you and your bottles.

    • Ron Marsilio - April 30, 2014

      Well said Mike!

    • Bill Ward - April 30, 2014

      Yes, well said, Mike, especially nos. 3 and 4.
      As for the Laundry’s list, minimal digging shows that a half-bottle of Patz & Hall Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay is $110, almost twice as much as a whole bottle goes for at the winery ($58). Copain’s Tous Ensemble rosé is $70 at the Laundry; the average at Wine Searcher is $22. The 2000 Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella Classic is $825 at the Laundry and $444 at Wine Searcher. Hard to argue that that’s not gouging.

    • denise marchant - April 30, 2014

      I went to the French Laundry years ago. We brought 2 bottles that were gifts from a winemaker friend in Carneros, older not available, and not on their list. We paid $50 for the
      .750ml, and $100 for a magnum. We shared the wine with everyone, (not every seat was
      taken) and we also bought 2 bottles. Everyone in our party had a connection with the host,
      servers, etc. We hoped they would waive the fee, but they did not. Still, the meal was not that great, and we had to ask them to slow down the service because they were sending the courses out too quickly. With the price tag, we wanted to savor the experience. I was really annoyed (this has nothing to do with corkage, but their lack of customer service) that the less than professional woman that took the reservation said we would only be able to dine at 5:30. Coming from the east a day before, our internal time clocks were on EST, so it
      was more like 8:30. The restaurant never filled up, and some “insiders” told me later it’s just a ploy to get people to think it’s all that special. I would’ve rather skipped the meal and donated the money to the SPCA.

  21. Tom Wark - April 30, 2014

    Bill,

    Remember too, it’s likely that the Laundry is purchasing that Patz & Hall Chard not for $58, but at the wholesale price of around $45.That’s not so bad a mark up. But looking at the FR list, many wines are marked up over 400%.

    • Bill Ward - April 30, 2014

      Except that the wine on the list was a HALF-bottle. So the wholesale price would have been a little over half that $48, maybe $28?. Sorry if I didn’t make that clear.

  22. Kurt Burris - April 30, 2014

    I like my wines with some age on them, and most restaurants don’t have cellars that have depth, except for the collector geek wines I can’t afford so I tend to bring a bottle and buy a bottle. It’s been 10 years since I ate at the French Laundry. The corkage then was “only” $50. Steep, but not ridiculous. The problem was that the wine list had almost no wines priced under $100. And they were out of stock on 3 of them. I have helped put together wine lists. Any bozo with access to a few back issues of the Connoisseur’s Guide can put together a list of $100 plus wines. If you are going to rip me off on corkage, don’t rip me off on the wine list

  23. Thomas Pellechia - April 30, 2014

    I don’t care how good the food is or how high the profile, I don’t accept a 400% markup on wine. But I don’t see the percentage in paying it and then complaining about it. The best way to reject the price is not to bring my own wine, but to dine somewhere else.

    Even though I dislike the practice of bringing wine to a restaurant, depriving them of a profit center, I agree with Mike Mora’s etiquette list for those who do bring their own.

    Another avenue is to move to a state like New Jersey, where alcohol licenses are hard to come by; so many restaurants haven’t one that people are encouraged to bring their own.

  24. Bob Henry - April 30, 2014

    One criticism I have heard “in wine country”: if corkage fees are too high in Napa and Sonoma Valley restaurants, they discourage winery sales/marketing professionals from choosing those establishments for the purpose of entertaining their out-of-town guests.

    (Guests could be exporters or distributors or brokers. Wine merchants or restaurateurs. Wine writers. Mailing list patrons.)

    The restaurant no longer serves one of its desired functions as a hospitable environment to “showcase” the winery’s portfolio.

    In closing, let me toss out this non-rhetorical question to the commenters: How many famous three-star Michelin Guide-ranked restaurants in Paris allow patrons to bring in their own bottles of wine? Did El Bulli in Spain allow patrons to bring in bottles of wine?

    • Ron Marsilio - April 30, 2014

      Bob,

      I’m sure that if the wine was rare and collectible and the patron called ahead and stuck to the four step criteria outlined by Mike, then there is a good chance that, for a fee, that customer could sip his/her own wine with the meal.

  25. Bob Henry - April 30, 2014

    An East Coast restaurant anecdote.

    A wine-drinking investment banker buddy of mine moved from Los Angeles to Manhattan — taking his wine collection with him.

    Born in 1961, he decided in celebrate his 30th birthday at a top steakhouse in NYC. (Which one I don’t recall.)

    He brought some of his investment banker work colleagues with him to celebrate opening 1961 First Growth Bordeaux — none of which were on the restaurant’s wine list.

    The wait person respectfully declined to open his hand-carried in bottles. He asked to speak with the maitre’d.

    The maitre’d respectfully declined to open his bottles. He asked to speak to the manager or one of the family member owners.

    The manager and/or owner respectfully declined to open his bottles.

    His counter offer: “I will pay whatever corkage fee you consider to be fair.” (Still, the answer was a polite “No.”)

    His second counter offer: “I will buy off your wine list the MOST EXPENSIVE bottle of wine you have, and without opening return it to you as the corkage fee.”

    (Still, the answer was a polite “No.”)

    So he said: “My investment banking firm entertains our clients here all the time. We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in your establishment. If this is how to treat our loyalty, then we are leaving.

    “And you are cut-off from ever getting our business again.”

    At which point he and his dining group stood up and walked out the door.

    (I later found him — through reviews in Food & Wine magazine — a Manhattan restaurant that would accommodate his bringing bring personal wine bottles for drinking. And that has become his watering hole ever since.)

  26. Bob Henry - April 30, 2014

    From Harvard Business Review Magazine
    (November-December 1971, Pages 74-80):

    “Demarketing, Yes, Demarketing”

    By Philip Kotler and Sidney J. Levy
    [Professors of Marketing, Northwestern University]

    The popular conception of marketing is that it deals with the problem of furthering or expanding demand. . . . . The marketer is a professional builder of sales volume who makes deft use of product, price, place, and promotion variables.

    . . .

    But suppose that an economy were suddenly plunged into a state of widespread product shortages. What would be the role of marketing management then? . . .

    . . . in practice excess demand is as much a marketing problem as excess supply. A company faces a host of difficult customer mix and marketing mix decisions in periods of excess demand. It has to find ways of reducing total demand or certain classes of demand to the level of supply without damaging long run customer relations.

    Our name for this kind of activity is “creative demarketing.” More formally, we define demarketing as that aspect of marketing that deals with discouraging customers in general or a certain class of customers in particular on either a temporary or permanent basis.

    In this article we will describe three different types of demarketing:

    1. General demarketing, which is required when a company wants to shrink the level of total demand.
    2. Selective demarketing, which is required when a company wants to discourage the demand coming from certain customer classes.
    3. Ostensible demarketing, which involves the appearance of trying to discourage demand as a device for actually increasing it.

    . . .

    The French Laundry is practicing “selective demarketing” by discouraging dining patrons from bringing wines into the restaurant for on-premise consumption.

  27. Bob Henry - May 1, 2014

    Denise,

    Not to sound like a shameless name-dropper, but it has been more than 10 years since I last dined at The French Laundry: New Year’s Eve, the last day they were open before shuttering the restaurant and decamping for New York to open Per Se.

    My eight person wine group comprised friends of Keller’s, and we held court the entire evening while others were required to turn their table.

    The corkage fee was $50. No limit to the number of bottles we wished to open. (We ended up opening one bottle proffered per diner.)

    ~~ Bob

  28. Tom Wark - May 1, 2014

    Bob,
    You may name drop here at your leisure…..And it sounds like a wonderful evening!!

  29. Bob Henry - May 1, 2014

    Tom,

    Keller’s fixed price tasting menu that New Year’s Eve comprised his 10 all-time best dishes.

    In my humble opinion, three dishes were knock-outs. Five were excellent. And two were very good. But it wasn’t the “transcendent” food experience I was hoping for.

    Two nights later, we dined at La Toque.

    Both The French Laundry and La Toque offer scrambled eggs with truffle oil and caviar in an open top egg shell.

    Both were equally good — but La Toque’s was a fraction of the price of The French Laundry’s.

    ~~ Bob

  30. Bob Henry - May 1, 2014

    For those who wish to study the wine selection and prices at The French Laundry, go here:

    http: // www [dot] binwise [dot] com/winelists/french-laundry-wine-list [dot] html

    For sibling restaurant Bouchon’s reds:

    http: // binwise [dot] com/print/BOUCHONYV_BOTTLERED_PDF.aspx?ListId=119&LocationId=85

    For Bouchon’s whites:

    http: // binwise [dot] com/print/BOUCHONYV_BOTTLEWHITE_PDF.aspx?ListId=118&LocationId=85

    (Aside: it would appear that your Fermentation blog dislikes embedded links — my attempts to proffer them as a comment have disappeared into the black hole known as “moderation.”)

  31. Tom Wark - May 1, 2014

    Bob,

    The comment spam filter does NOT like lots of links. The legitimate spam that get caught in the filter almost always has tons of links urging folks to buy viagra or some new item of women’s clothing. Best not to include too many links when commenting.

  32. Bob Henry - May 1, 2014

    One wine that caught my eye on The French Laundry wine list:

    1995 Ridge Monte Bello Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 750 ML format

    Restaurant’s wine list price is $975.

    Accessing Wine-Searcher, one can find bottles beginning at $149.00 (e.g., Sokolin).

    Oakland-based J. J. Buckley Fine Wines sells it for $159.99.

    The San Francisco Wine Trading Company will sell you a magnum for $299.00.

    At the restaurant’s “10 Benjamins” price, I think I’ll have a beer . . .

  33. Charlie Olken - May 1, 2014

    Here is a comment I posted elsewhere about this issue. Obviously, I do not eat there often but I strongly disagree with Ron Washam and anyone else who thinks that $150 corkage fees are reasonable. They have a whole slew of wines on their list on which they make far less.

    “Ron Washam and Thomas Pellechia have it exactly right. I will no longer patronize The French Laundry or Per Se or any other restaurant whose corkage fee is several times what it makes on its lower priced bottles. Let’s say that they make $70 on a $90 bottle, in other words 350% which is outrageous in itself, then their corkage fee ought to be no higher than $70, and probably should be less. After all, they do not have to pay in advance for the wine, keep it in inventory, send someone off to look for it and keep it chilled if it is a white. Thus, even their $70 markup over cost is not a $70 profit. If they want me to pay them more for my own wine, then that restaurant is off my list. Either charge me for the food, and make the wine proportionate and reasonable or I am going to go elsewhere. Or I am going to drink a glass of wine and not have other wine, which then defeats their purpose and profit structure.”

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    Isabel’s above comment makes about as much sense as some of the wine bottle mark-ups at The French Laundry.

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  37. Matt Clark - July 26, 2014

    In Australia, we generally have a happy medium when it comes to wine corkage fees. Some restaurants don’t mind people bringing in their own wine and charge a reasonable corkage for it ($5-$10 per person who is drinking). We also have the wine prices set at about 1.5-3 times it’s regular retail price (as set at cellar door).

    So you can have a mixture of both, completely BYO or completely no wine whatsoever. A restaurant owner that I know once said to me, “If somebody brings in a quality wine, we allow them to have that wine. If they bring in a $10 bottle of wine, we ask them to return that wine to the car and buy ours.” I think that is a very happy medium to have.


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