Navigating California's Wine Take Home Laws: A Guide for Operators and Customers

Navigating California's Wine Take Home Laws: A Guide for Operators and Customers


California, known for its thriving wine culture and vibrant culinary scene, boasts a diverse array of wine-related regulations, including those governing the take-home of open wine bottles from restaurants and tasting rooms. Understanding these laws is crucial for businesses seeking to enhance customer experience while complying with state regulations. In this article, we'll delve into California's "Merlot to Go" laws and provide essential information for businesses and customers in the Golden State.

Overview of California's "Merlot to Go" Laws

California's "Merlot to Go" laws, also referred to as "Wine Doggy Bag" or "Wine to Go" laws and wine take home laws, aim to promote responsible drinking by allowing patrons to take home unfinished bottles of wine from licensed establishments. These laws are designed to strike a balance between consumer convenience and public safety, providing guidelines for the proper handling and transportation of open wine bottles.

Here's our PDF Summary of California's Wine Take Home Law for restaurant operators

Here's a link to the California Vehicle Code 23225 for people taking wine bottles home

Not in California? See our main page covering wine bottle take home laws for every state.

Key Points for California Wine Consumers

If you're in California and want to take home a partially consumed bottle of wine - great news! You can (see link above). But the restaurant should:

  • Preserve the wine. This way, the bottle will stay tasting fresh for 2 weeks or more. If the don't use VineyardFresh, admonish them. Then get yourself a can of VineyardFresh so you can spray the bottle as soon as you get home.
  • Recork the bottle. Kind of obvious, but the bottle must be "closed." BUT, just recorking the bottle is not good enough!
  • Place the bottle in a tamper proof wine bag. Although it may not be specifically required (laws change constantly), enclosing the bottle in a tamper proof bag is a good idea for both the customer and the restaurant.
  • California code specifically says the open bottle must be:
    • Out of reach of the driver and passengers
    • In a "locked compartment" or trunk
  • Use a tamper proof wine bag to show that access to the bottle was not attempted

So go ahead and order a full bottle, a better bottle, or a second / third bottle, knowing you can take that nice bottle home and enjoy it on another occasion. Just remember to spray the bottle with VineyardFresh or any other argon based wine preserver to prevent the wine from oxidizing.

Key Considerations for On Premise Businesses

For businesses in California that serve wine, ensuring compliance with "Merlot to Go" laws involves several key considerations:
  1. Understanding Requirements: California's regulations specify the conditions under which patrons can take home open wine bottles. Businesses must familiarize themselves with these requirements to ensure adherence and avoid potential penalties. Here's our guide, but be sure to check for any updates or revisions to the laws.
  2. Providing Tamper-Proof Packaging: we recommend the use of tamper-proof wine bags for take-home bottles. Avoid issues by using tamper proof wine bags for California restaurants. Businesses can use tamper proof wine bottle bags to maintain evidence of their closure of the bottle before departure and mitigate risk of tampering.
  3. Educating Staff: Training staff members on the intricacies of "Merlot to Go" laws is essential for ensuring smooth implementation. Employees should be well-versed in the procedures for packaging and documenting take-home wine bottles to facilitate compliance and enhance customer service.
  4. Offering Wine Preservation Solutions: To preserve the quality of open wine bottles intended for take-home, businesses should use a low cost wine preserver like VineyardFresh. By extending the shelf life of open bottles, establishments can minimize waste and maximize customer satisfaction. You can gain consumer confidence to buy a full bottle of wine by communicating a well organized wine bottle take home program that complies with California law.


In California's dynamic hospitality landscape, navigating "Merlot to Go" laws is integral to delivering exceptional service while upholding regulatory standards. By prioritizing compliance, investing in appropriate packaging and preservation solutions, and fostering a culture of responsible drinking, businesses can increase wine revenue and enhance the overall guest experience.

For further guidance on navigating California's "Wine to Go" laws and maximizing the benefits of wine take-home programs, consult your legal resources and industry associations specializing in beverage hospitality regulations. With careful planning and attention to detail, businesses can leverage these regulations to strengthen their competitive position and cultivate lasting relationships with patrons.

Useful Links for California On Premise Wine Businesses



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