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New York wine merchants count cost of Hurricane Sandy

The immense surge of seawater caused by Hurricane Sandy has left a number of low-lying wine merchants and restaurants reeling.

Flooding in the Carey Tunnel (previously the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel) in the financial district of New York. [Yahoo images]

The immense surge of seawater caused by Hurricane Sandy has left a number of low-lying wine merchants and restaurants reeling.

One merchant who took the precaution of emptying his cellars found his efforts were in vain as water levels rose.
And damage to wine stocks in private cellars might be considerable, Michael Yurch at Sherry-Lehmann said. He suggested this may have the effect of ‘pushing the market for collectibles upward.’

Ron Kyle at Dry Dock Wine and Spirits in the waterfront Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn said he prepared for the storm by clearing all wine and spirits out of his basement and stacking them on the main floor of his shop.

‘We figured we’d get water in the basement, but we never thought it would come as high as it did. All of those cardboard cases collapsed. It’s a mess in there. We’re out of business for the time being. The building needs structural work.’

At Pasanella & Son, one of the best-rated wine shops in New York City, on the south-east tip of Manhattan, where the sea surge hit hardest, Marco Pasanella said, ‘My family and employees are all fine but the store sustained substantial damage.

‘We were under six feet of churning water. It just blew through our front door. We scrambled upstairs to look out our window and see the whole street from the Battery [Park area] on up, under water.

‘Then five hours later, it was all gone. When we returned, the cases that had been stowed back in the tasting room, above three feet and wrapped in plastic, were strewn in the main store area, like dice.

‘But, we were far from the hardest hit,’ Pasanella added. ‘The neighborhood is a total mess. Next to me, the Paris cafe has beams from the river jammed inside the bar. Everyone’s basement’s flooded.’

Most of Pasanella’s wine is safe, after being moved before the flood, he said. The store should be open in the next few days.

At the Ten Bells wine bar on Broome Street, lower east side of Manhattan – but high enough to miss the flooding, Jose Leao said that all was fine ‘except we don’t have power’. Speaking on the problems further downtown, he said, ‘with our spirit and resilience we will overcome this’.

Others farther from the coast were not hit as hard, but are still lacking electricity. Astor Wine and Spirits’ twitter feed announced that its store would be closed on October 31, due to a power outage, while Morrell Wine Store tweeted that they were open and back in business.

the larger end of the wine retailing scale, auction house Christie’s returned to business as usual yesterday (31 October). ‘Our wine warehouse remained powered and dry, so all of the property was kept safe and secure throughout the storm,’ a spokesperson told Decanter.com

Mid-town’s Sherry-Lehmann escaped serious damage according to president Michael Yurch. ‘Our key focus at the moment is on our clients and on our team. Roads and bridges have been completely closed, and the mass transit system that brings the majority of our associates to work is still shuttered,’ said Yurch.

He added that the long-term impact of the storm on the wine trade won’t be known for some time. ‘In the short term there will be no way to replace the days of lost sales of everyday business. Going forward however, the number of fine private collections stored in residential cellars and damaged or destroyed is anyone’s guess. I’m sure it is a significant amount. What happens to wines damaged in the cosmetic sense but not destroyed?’

He said the impact on the market may be considerable. ‘Will clients with collections wiped out by the storm take their insurance reimbursements and reinvest in wine? I’m sure they will, and slowly that may push the market for collectibles upwards.’

Elsewhere in New York one wine shop reported a surge in business as home-bound customers ordered extra wine to get them through the storm. John Samuel, owner of Breukelen Cellars in Bedford-Stuyvesant told the Brooklyn Daily he delivered at least a dozen cases of wine to Brooklynites ‘hunkered down in their homes’.

‘A lot of our regulars have nowhere to go, so they’re going to hang out with old friends and a bottle of wine,’ he said.

Some bars remained open throughout, with hurricane-themed cocktails being hastily devised.

Written by Tim Teichgraeber and Chris Mercer

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