The Sad Decline of the Queen of New York Wine Stores – Wine Spectator

January 9, 2023 by No Comments

On a sunny afternoon last December, a middle-aged woman angrily walked out of 88-year-old Sherry-Lehmann, once the royalty of Manhattan wine and spirits stores. “I was shopping for a gift bottle of tequila for my boss,” the woman said, as she waited to cross Park Avenue. “But the salesperson tells me there’s only one bottle of tequila in stock and it costs $4,200. I like my boss, but not that much!”

Back inside the shop, another woman stands at the counter, frowning. She asks why she hasn’t received an overdue $200 refund. “It takes four to eight weeks for the credit to be processed,” the salesman says. He offers the woman the value of her refund in wine. But the pickings are slim: The shelves labeled red Burgundy, once lined with bottles from prestigious domaines, are vacant. Except for a bottom row of inexpensive wines, the same is true of the shelves labeled white Burgundy. And the Bordeaux selection, once vast, is gone. One vertical case, however, is fully stocked with wine bottles bearing colorful Sherry-Lehmann labels. Only when you pick up a bottle do you realize they are empty props.

The woman asking for her refund is persuaded to take several bottles of a well-known Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. As she leaves the shop, an expensively dressed man strides up to the counter. “I need four bottles of Krug Champagne,” he says.

“We’re totally sold out of Champagne,” the salesman says. A look of disbelief crosses the patron’s face. He turns on his heels and departs. After he’s gone, the salesman confides, “Last year, I needed a half bottle of Krug Grande Cuvée for my aunt; it’s her favorite Champagne. But we didn’t have it here. I had to walk up to a shop on Lexington Avenue to buy it. Crazy!”

Once arguably the queen of wine shops in America’s biggest wine market, Sherry-Lehmann is facing potential financial ruin. Several leading wholesalers tell Wine Spectator that inventory at the store is low because the company owes money to multiple distributors, who now refuse to send the store any more wine. The New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) has placed the store on a list of retailers who must pay cash on delivery to distributors because of delinquent payments. The company owes back taxes. And several customers have filed lawsuits alleging Sherry-Lehmann failed to deliver Bordeaux wines they bought as futures.

The question is: How did a store with such a sterling reputation sink so low? While the pandemic hurt restaurants, many wine shops thrived as people did their drinking at home. Did Sherry-Lehmann suffer from particular vulnerabilities? Or has it been woefully mismanaged?




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