The Question of Wine Corkage Fees in a World Askew
I 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.