The Norman Transcript

November 9, 2012

In N.J., Grey Goose vodka supply drying up post-Sandy

By Elise Young
Bloomberg News

TRENTON, N.J. — New Jerseyans with homes swamped and blacked out by Hurricane Sandy face another hardship: a cutoff of Cristal champagne, Grey Goose vodka and an herbal brew called Kamasutra, "the natural spirit of seduction."

The exclusive New Jersey distributor of those and other liquors, Fedway Associates, was still cleaning up Thursday after a 10-foot surge of Hackensack River floodwater inundated its Kearny warehouse last week, according to its Facebook page. Losses will be "in the tens of millions," the posting said.

The company is getting 100 delivery trucks to replace its fleet, has rented a 190,000-square-foot (17,700-square-meter) warehouse and aims to resume operations starting Nov. 19, according to messages on its Facebook page. About 250 employees, joined by customer volunteers, are working three cleaning shifts a day, while Fedway's offices are moving to Somerville.

"We are making rapid and significant progress," Neil Barnett, Fedway's president, said Wednesday on Facebook.

Company officials declined to speak to a reporter, according to John Bartell, who identified himself as an accounts officer with Fedway when reached by telephone.

Fedway's disaster means no source for Grey Goose, the imported French vodka that Sasha Vaynerchuk, 59, owner of Wine Library in Springfield, sells for $35 for 750 milliliters. New Jersey law prohibits retailers from buying supplies from out of state distributors and Fedway has the exclusive rights to sell the liquor in New Jersey, Vaynerchuk said.

"If somebody drinks Grey Goose, you can't replace with Smirnoff or Ketel One," Vaynerchuk said by cellphone.

"On the wine end of it, it's not so difficult, because people will try others," Vaynerchuk said. "The customer has much more loyalty to spirits."

Kamasutra, a ginseng-based liquor, is distributed by Fedway in New Jersey, according to marketers at Herborium Group in Fort Lee. It said in September that Fedway was the state's largest liquor wholesaler, with 7,000 points of sale in stores, restaurants and bars.

At the Wine Seller in Ridgewood, owner Don Carter, 56, said he was out of regular Grey Goose and had "a few cases" of Svedka, another Fedway exclusive.

"I'm dancing as fast as I can, and the shelves are getting pretty bare," he said by telephone.

"We never lost power, and we did twice as much business as we ordinarily do," after the storm hit Oct. 29, Carter said. His regular customers, as well as new ones from towns where electricity was down, told him about candlelight dinners at home that led them to seek his specialty, fine wine.

The supply disruption comes at what Carter called his busiest time of year, "when you've done all your work, done all your tastings notes" and prepared to stock for the holidays. Now, he said, he'll have to regroup and adjust his stock based on what's available elsewhere.

Carter e-mailed his customers saying that it "may take time" to restock and included a list of what may be in short supply. Among the brands listed were Cristal, Graham's Port and Zaccagnini, which he described as "the wines with the stick."

Also on the list were Captain Morgan rums, Laphroaig whiskey and Blanton's Bourbon.

"We have plenty of Veuve Clicquot," Carter said. "You can put that in."