Blue Chip New York Retailer Morrell And Co Sees Growth For Wine, Concern for IndependentsJune 10, 2011
Fine wine and spirits retailer Morrell & Co. has been a New York institution for more than 60 years. Located in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Plaza, the scant 1,300 square-foot Morrell’s is a destination for area wine lovers, workers, corporations and tourists. Led by chairman and senior wine advisor Peter Morrell, the store stocks some 2,500 wine and spirits, priced from $7.99 per bottle and up. Shanken News Daily visited recently with Morrell and discussed wine trends and the state of beverage alcohol retailing.
SND: There have been renewed efforts to allow the sale of wine in New York grocery stores. What’s your position?
MORRELL: Not surprisingly, I’m against it. I’ve spent nearly five decades devoted to building a consumer base for wine when none existed. Now that we’ve developed that market, the supermarkets want to take it away from us. It doesn’t seem quite fair.
SND: What impact would supermarket sales have on your business?
MORRELL: It wouldn’t be a tremendous loss to our operation, but some people have put their life savings into wine and spirits stores adjacent to supermarkets, all over the state. They would instantly be blown away. Then, the supermarkets would turn around and say, ‘There aren’t any liquor stores left, so we want to sell liquor.’ We support the many groups that publicly oppose the sale of wine in supermarkets.
SND: What are the current trends for wine at Morrell & Co.?
MORRELL: Rosé has made a very strong comeback from its days of terrible quality. And Prosecco is big. While Chardonnay is still king, Spanish whites like Albariño are performing well. Spain has done a marvelous job of improving the quality of its wines. One varietal that could perform better is Riesling. I love Riesling, especially during the warm months, but somehow it has fallen through the cracks. Among reds, Pinot Noir keeps growing, and Australian Shiraz is very popular. In terms of bang for the buck, you get the most out of an Australian Shiraz—flavor, concentration, roundness, bigness, all at a great price.
SND: Is your store more of a destination for Old World or New World wines?
MORRELL: The domestic wine business will always be dominant for us in terms of volume. Among imports, France and Italy still rule the market. Spain has made huge gains and Australia keeps everyone else honest with its quality-price ratio. You can’t overlook South America, with big volume for wines from Chile and Argentina. If we had an underachiever, it would be South Africa. It remains a story yet to be told here.
SND: What impact did the recession have on your business?
MORRELL: It wasn’t good. Lehman Brothers, which was located right across the street, was one of our customers. So that was a hit. The suddenness of the banking crisis ground the economy to a halt. That was a scary time economically, and people just pulled their horns in. We saw a long period of trading down as people were counting their pennies. While there’s been a substantial recovery, things aren’t back to where they used to be, and I wonder if they ever will be. The good news is that the next generation of consumers is embracing wine as never before. There are more wine drinkers, and per capita consumption is increasing. So I’m very optimistic about the overall market. It’s a good time to be in the wine business.
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