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Friday, 18 September 2009 05:58

Here's a new wine web page we'd never see in Michigan.

On it, you'll find a list of Chicagoland restaurants where diners can BYO, complete with addresses and corkage fees.

That's right. People can actually walk into restaurants in Illinois or New York or California with a bottle of wine and, if the restaurant concurs, ask the server to pour it with the meal. It's a practice both consumer and business-friendly, encouraging folks to eat out far more often than we otherwise might.

Unlike those states, Michigan's laws in this area remain particularly neanderthal. As "Ask the Wine Geek" recently detailed, BYO is basically illegal in all restaurants here, a couple of loopholes excepted.

Like most Michigan beverage statutes, this reflects the power of Lansing lobbyists and political contributors, rather than any rational approach to regulation. Otherwise, it's hard to explain why I can legally drink my own wine in a licensed hotel restaurant -- but not at the place next door.

Fortunately, the number of BYO violations that come to public attention wouldn't fill a tastevin. And I'm certain -- but can't prove -- that even those few aren't due to restaurants behaving stupidly -- for example, by letting 18-year olds walk in with six-packs, or opening three bottles for some inebriate who subsequently rams a police car on the way home.

No, BYO violations generally arrive as "complaints" -- i.e. a restaurant down the street drops the dime on its competitor. Most typically, the guy who paid a pile for a license to sell wine at three times what he paid for it snitches on an unlicensed neighbor who's quietly providing glasses and a corkscrew for customers who walk in with a bottle.

Like most wine lovers, I've benefitted over the years from restaurants, both licensed and unlicensed, kind enough to let me bring a semi-licit cellar bottle or two to celebrate a special occasion. I try not to abuse their kindness, since these restaurants take risks that indicate they value both my patronage and discretion.

So why would anyone want to publicize who they are?

Beats me. But in the last few days, a number of Michigan social media folks have been atwit with the names of their favorite local BYOs. Some of those names are even being broadcast by folks who ought to know our state liquor laws.

They're not doing these restaurants any favors. By publicizing them, they're setting the stage for complaints by their competitors, and subsequent visits by the LCC, if they're licensed, or the local constabulary, if they're not.

So do you know a great little place that lets you enjoy a carried-in bottle with its well-prepared food? Great, enjoy it. By all means, share the name with a few wine loving friends so they can enjoy it too -- and help to keep the restaurant in business during these tough times.

And then, please shut up.

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Want a refresher about Michigan wine history and potential? Get a quick two page cheat-sheet by Layne Cameron in Western Farm Press, and make some allowances for the MSU-centricity (the author's employer).

Links to wine news from Michigan and elsewhere. Use the Contact Form to let us know what should be here.


Recently-deceased Korean dictator Kim Jong Il was a wine geek (and reputed alcoholic) with a 10,000-bottle cellar, according to ex-Slate wine columnist Mike Steinberger. Kim earlier gave up Hennessy Cognac on doctor's orders.