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February, 08, 2012


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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Palin Wine Sales Sour

By Jennifer Lawinski


An organic wine from Chile has oenophiles in San Francisco turning up their noses. But there’s nothing wrong with the wine. It’s the name that bothers them:

Palin Syrah.

Palin Wine
The wine from a boutique vineyard in Chile was once a strong seller, but now it’s an outcast in the City by the Bay because its name comes way too close to a certain governor from the state of Alaska, says Celine Guillou, co-owner of the Yield Wine Bar.

Palin Syrah — pronounced Pay-LEEN — takes its name from a ball used in a Chilean-style hockey game, and it has been on the bar’s wine list for a while. But sales have plummeted ever since John McCain named Sarah Palin to be his running mate.

“Before McCain made his announcement it was selling very well, because it’s an affordable wine and it’s from South America,” Guillou said. “Then he made his announcement and we hear people making comments constantly about the wine.”

Each wine on the Yield Wine Bar’s list has a description, and Palin Syrah is described as: tastes of “white pepper” and “madrone” - an evergreen found in the Pacific Northwest.

Guillou said customers have now made a sport of ad-libbing their own descriptions. “People started making suggestions like gunpowder, moose meat, hockey mom - the list goes on and on. It’s funny, but it’s all we’ve heard for the last couple weeks.”

Now that the wine has been unofficially blacklisted by San Franciscans, its place on Yield Wine Bar’s list is threatened. “I think people try to see the humor in it, but we’re in San Francisco, so most of the people we have in I’m going to suspect are fairly liberal. People like to joke about it, but for some people it evokes quite a visceral reaction,” Guillou said.

David Hinkle, a wine buyer with North Berkeley Wine in Berkeley, Calif., which is the West Coast importer for Palin Syrah, said the wine’s Chilean producer called him to ask if he thought McCain’s pick would have any effect on sales. So far, he said, they have remained stable. In addition to the Palin Syrah, the Palin vineyard also produces Palin Carménère and Palin Cabernet Sauvignon.

But it appears that not everyone in the U.S. wants to put a cork in Palin Syrah.

In Houston, Palin Syrah has been flying off the shelves at Cepage Noir Wine Company. The store, in the Republican stronghold of Texas, once had cases stacked 20 high, but now only 74 bottles remain.

And sales have been strong even in solidly Democratic New York City. Appellation Wine and Spirits has carried Palin Syrah for about six months, and sales have spiked since Sarah Palin hit the national political scene.

“I think is that some of the reason is that some people are going to buy it and cross out her name and maybe write Obama or Biden’s name,” shop owner Scott Pactor said.

Another reason could be Palin Syrah’s appealing $12.99 price, which is suddenly very attractive down on Wall Street. “As the economy has more challenges, people are looking for less expensive wine,” Pactor said.

Since McCain picked Sarah Palin, Palin Syrah has caused as many heated debates among wine shoppers as the candidate has among voters.

“We’ve had couples come in and one in the couple will say, ‘We’re definitely not buying this,’ and the other half of the couple is curious and they want to try the wine, so it becomes a bit of a debate,” Pactor said. “It’s been very funny. Its funny to see how much conversation can be generated over a single name.”

To be fair and balanced, Pactor said, he’s looking to give Democrat supporters an option, too.

“We’re also in the process of looking for an Obama wine or a Biden wine, just to be balanced, obviously, just to be balanced. We want to make sure customers have options, but so far we haven’t been successful,” he said.

Back in California, Guillou said that although San Franciscans aren’t shy about expressing their liberal leanings, it’s too early to sound the death knell for Palin Syrah.

“We might have a group of Republicans who come in to try and bring the sales up,” she said.

“Who knows? Eventually the sales could be tied to how she does in the polls. You have to appreciate San Francisco for what it is, I guess.”

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