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Vine dining 

Our resident booze expert Craig Pinhey breaks down the pros and cons of the province’s new BYOW liquor law.

The recent announcement that Nova Scotia restaurants will soon be allowed to have the option of offering BYOW ("Bring Your Own Wine") came as a pleasant surprise to many wine lovers in the province.

It has arrived quietly, even though there were public consultations held in late 2006, where restaurant owners and consumers were invited to voice their support or opposition to the concept.

Apparently, there weren't any serious concerns. Now that it's here, restaurants are either gearing up to embrace it, or deciding whether to bother.

"We'll watch it for a while, and see exactly what we are allowed and not allowed to do, before we make a decision," explains Costa Elles, an influential local restaurateur (Opa, Seven, Mosaic) and sommelier, "but anytime they make a change that loosens up the rules, I think it's great for the industry."

If Elles does go with BYOW, then he'll have to decide on a corkage fee: what restaurants charge consumers to open and serve the wine. In other jurisdictions, corkage ranges from nothing to over $25 a bottle.

Craig Norton, the sommelier at Gio, says the restaurant has already made plans. "A corkage fee of $30 will be applied to each bottle opened," and that, to encourage customers to buy from their list, "we will offer a 50 percent reduction in the corkage fee if the patron purchases one of our bottles from our list, bottle for bottle."

Another consideration surrounds a restaurant's wine inventory, which at Seven runs over $300,000. If you allow BYOW, you can reduce inventory costs. The vast majority of restaurant goers drink wines on the list that cost $45 or less. If the consumers can bring those bottles themselves, why bother stocking anything except premium "Sommelier's Choice" type offerings?

Another problem arises for servers. If 90% of wine sold is $45 or less, and you change all that to BYOW, then what do the diners tip on? The size of the bill is significantly reduced, and some consumers may not feel obliged to tip as per before.

Before you haul your booze down to your favourite resto, there are several key rules that need to be considered. Only wine is allowed, and only commercial: no homemade. Also, only people ordering a meal may bring wine.

"Beer didn't show up as an area of concern in our public consultation process," explains Janet Lynn McNeil, spokesperson for the Alcohol and Gaming Division of the Department of Environment & Labour, responsible for the legislation, "and, as far as we know, beer is not allowed in other provinces with BYOW."

As for homemade wine, "It was disallowed because there is no way to know what is in the bottle. It could be filled with vodka," answers McNeil.

A rebuttal might be that it is easy these days to refill and recork commercial wine bottles, but it's doubtful anyone will be budging on this policy, which is too bad for the many people who make homemade wine, who are no doubt questioning the motives behind it.

There's a particularly interesting side benefit in the legislation, though: you will now be allowed to take home wine you didn't drink. So, you can drink half the bottle and take the rest home. Apparently this also applies to wines on the restaurant's own list. How civilized.

Now, what about all the sommeliers being trained around these parts since 2000? Will they still be needed?

"Yes," explains Sean Buckland, President of the Atlantic Chapter of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers. "A more unique selection is needed to attract wine savvy guests, an award-winning wine list will still attract guests and restaurants will still need a sommelier to select a food match."

Maybe some keen entrepreneurs will start a "Bring Your Own Sommelier" service. It's worth a shot.

Craig Pinhey is a certified beer judge, sommelier, and freelance writer. Find more at www.frogspad.ca

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