It goes without saying that nearly all Healdsburg restaurants offer a respectable wine list, but despite this, many patrons still want to bring in their own bottles. For good reason, as the cost of dining out has started to pinch the pocketbooks. But consumers are unlikely to save much once they account for sometimes-high corkage fees—the amount a restaurant charges for opening and serving a bottle brought in from outside.
By Chris Andrews
With many occasions for dining out in coming weeks, diners should be reassured that Healdsburg is pretty darn friendly when it comes to corkage fees. Several restaurants have discounted or waived fees for local wines brought in. The basic pattern at many local restaurants seems to be a variation on buy one, get one free.
Dry Creek Kitchen leads the parade with their “no corkage fee on local-to-Sonoma County wines” policy, and a reasonable $30 corkage fee on all other bottles. It might be noted that Charlie Palmer’s “Progressive American” menu, based on grown local and seasonal ingredients, resonates especially well with regional wines, a consideration that applies to other area eateries as well.
At the lower end in the fine-dining category is Chalkboard, with $25 corkage, which is waived with the purchase of one of their own wine options for a second bottle. The popular Spoonbar charges no corkage on the first bottle of local-to-Sonoma County wine, and thereafter, corkage is $20/bottle, regardless of origin. Even the Michelin-rated Valette lists a corkage fee of $25/bottle, waived for every additional bottle of wine purchased from their in-house wine list.
When there’s a great cab sitting in the wine rack at home that could use a night out, consider Goodnight’s Prime Steak. Their corkage fee is $40, but it can disappear altogether if a second bottle is purchased off the menu. Similarly, the Madrona charges $40/bottle for corkage, which is waived for each bottle matched by a purchase from their cellar.
Rising Costs of Corkage
As one might expect, SingleThread, which is highly invested in its wine cellar and 160-page wine menu, charges a pricey $150/bottle corkage fee, with only one outside bottle allowed per two guests. This policy puts them on par with neighboring Napa’s 3-Michelin star restaurant, the French Laundry.
Barndiva has an exceptional wine list, yet it allows up to two outside bottles at $40 corkage per, while Second Story, with its vegan prix fixe menu, charges $60 for corkage on outside wines. It will, however, drop the corkage to $45 if house wines are also purchased. Newly popular Troubadour Bread & Bistro, which transforms into an intimate pop-up dining establishment in the evenings, accommodates outside wine at a bracing $50/bottle.
Most of Healdsburg’s favorite pizzerias, as well as the Baci Café and Wine Bar with its highbrow renditions of classic Italian dishes, offer reasonable corkage fees of $10-$25, waived with a purchase of their wines. The only exception is woodfire specialist Molti Amici, which charges a $40 corkage on all outside bottles, no exceptions.
On a Budget
Casual dining establishments in downtown Healdsburg are neighborly, with low or non-existent corkage fees. These include Healdsburg Bar & Grill, The Wurst, Healdsburger and the Mexican taquerias.
Also on the low end, Agave Healdsburg, with its authentic Oaxacan cuisine, offers corkage of only $8 on outside bottles. A great deal.
Three doors down, Bollywood Kitchen offers reasonably priced wines paired specifically with the flavors of their Indian and Nepalese foods, but customers can still bring in their own for a modest $10/bottle. Ditto for casual KINSmoke with its exceptional barbecue and smoked meats.
Area establishments that hover between casual and fine dining generally maintain reasonable corkage fees. Guiso Latin Fusion comes in at $20/bottle for corkage. Stark’s Bravas Bar de Tapas has a $25/bottle corkage fee, though it’s waived with the purchase of a house wine. But their Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar charges $25/bottle on the first two outside bottles, then $35/bottle on each additional one.
For those wanting to pair great wines from their cellar or wine-tasting purchases with dinner out at a local restaurant, the area’s corkage rates range from competitive to extravagant. In either case, show appreciation to the server by providing a gratuity commensurate with what would have been paid on a comparable bottle if purchased off the restaurant’s list.