Upscale booze profits dry up as cheaper brands boom during lockdown

Americans may be imbibing more, but they’re not spending more — and that’s hurting some retailers, The Post has learned.

Since the coronavirus lockdowns kicked off in March, booze deliveries have been through the roof — rising as much as 600 percent at one point, according to delivery company Drizly. But retailers specializing in upscale wines and liquors say the uptick hasn’t translated to higher profits, because customers are also gravitating toward cheaper products to protect against growing economic uncertainty.

Park Avenue’s Sherry-Lehmann Wine & Spirits, which has been selling to well-heeled Upper East Siders since 1934, is just one of the many upscale wineries to feel the pinch as customers switch to less-expensive brands.

“I’m not going to complain about our revenues because we are doing better than 95 percent of retailers, but we can’t sell enough cases to quantify the loss of the high-end,” said Chief Executive Chris Adams.

Instead of rare wines, the store is seeing its Bordeaux sampler cases fly off the shelves. They sell for $180, or roughly $15 a bottle, Adams said. “We have had a lot of success with bottles at the $12, $15 and up to $30 price point, but the bulk of our model is bottles that sell for between $40 and $60.”

For Grapes The Wine Co. in White Plains, NY, the trend has pushed sales down 35 percent, owner Daniel Posner told The Post. “Our regular customers are buying inexpensive wines — spending $20 instead of $50 per bottle,” Posner said.

To meet the demand, the store, which focuses on French wines, has been bulking up on more affordable bottles, including a 2018 Ayres Pinot Noir Willamette Valley that sells for $19.99, and which Grapes has not offered for 15 years.

Chad Brown, a fine wine collector in Westchester County, said it’s all about the economy. “Everyone is concerned about their finances and employment.”

So while he and his wife are “definitely drinking more,” they are also buying wines that cost $35 or less, as opposed to $100 or more. If they want a bottle that costs triple digits, they simply go to their temperature-controlled unit in the basement and pick out something they already own, said Brown, president of advertising company Cumulus Media National Sales.

“Right now, I’d dig something out from my collection before I’d spend more than $100 on a bottle of wine,” Brown said.

Michael Correra, owner Michael Towne Wines and Spirits in Brooklyn, said sales in the early days of the pandemic were up by about 20 percent over last year. But now they’re flat, as customers have fled the city, and those who remain gravitate toward “comfort brands” like Kendall-Jackson, Josh and Santa Margherita.

Matt Tornabene, owner of Manhattan Wine Co. near Hudson Yards, says about half of his best clients have taken a financial hit during the coronavirus pandemic, either through their portfolios or work, he said. And that’s affecting his ability to sell six bottles of a $5,500 bottle of Coche-dury Corton-Charlemagne, which is rarely sold at retail.

Tornabene has told his top clients that the coveted white Burgundy will be arriving in New York on June 19, but so far hasn’t had any takers.

“Normally, they’d hit the dock and immediately turn around to be transported to someone’s cellar,” Tornabene said. “I’ll do all I can to place them, but normally this gets scarfed up more quickly.”

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