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Put a cork in it: State considers change in wine rule

As the wine maker for 1810 Country Inn and Winery, Kent Smith has seen some expensive wine poured down the drain in his time. When customers aren't able to finish a bottle, the rest simply gets thrown away.

Under Georgia's current open-container law, it's illegal to carry the resealed bottle in the car. But if a House bill passes and is signed into law, wine drinkers can cork the bottle up and take it home.

Rep. Bob Smith, R-Watkinsville, introduced House Bill 1436, which allows restaurant patrons to drive home with their unfinished bottle of wine.

Rep. Smith said the bill was a common-sense approach to cutting down on drivers who drink past their legal limit just to finish a bottle of wine.

Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, a co-sponsor who introduced a similar bill earlier in the session, said the bill was a "cool way to prevent people from drinking and driving."

"When you go to a restaurant and you order a good bottle of wine, you feel obligated to drink the whole thing," Rep. Drenner said. "You may spend premium money on a premium wine and you don't want to leave it on the table."

The bill passed through committee last week, where a lobbyist for the Georgia Restaurant Association spoke on behalf of the bill. The bill must make it through the Rules Committee next before going to the House floor for a vote.

Robert Bruso, the executive chef at 17Hundred90 in Savannah noted that restaurants may run into liability issues with letting customers take home a bottle of wine.

"Personally, I don't think it's a good idea," Mr. Bruso said. "You never know where that bottle is going to end up."

As for customers who don't want to let a good bottle of wine go to waste, Mr. Bruso said, "Our restaurant has an extensive by-the-glass wine list for that reason."

Some experts say the new law would make taking home pricey wines comparable to boxing up leftovers.

"I think it would be very helpful," Mr. Smith said. "That would probably tempt more people to buy a bottle of wine, even if they're not sure if they can finish it. I imagine it would especially be helpful to a lot of restaurants that don't have a lot of wines by the glass."

According to the bill, a bottle of wine may only be carried home if purchased with a "full-course meal," including "salad or a vegetable, an entree, beverage and bread." The wine must be recorked, placed in a closed bag and kept in the trunk or glove compartment of the car. The driver must keep a receipt proving that the wine was recently purchased with dinner.

Under current law, drivers traveling with a recorked bottle of wine in their car would be guilty of violating the open container law and subject to arrest.Heinz Sowinski, owner of La Maison in Augusta, said the bill was "a wise decision."

"If they didn't finish it in the restaurant then they're not going to drink it in the car," Mr. Sowinski said. "It's corked; it's in a bag; it's going in a trunk, so that's it."

Web posted on Thursday, March 16, 2006

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