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03.07.2007

Sorry, We Own That Word

This is a rant about wine. But more than that, it's a rant about the sorry state that western civilization has gotten itself into. We live in such a consumer-driven, brand-conscious, intellectual-property-loving, litigious culture that our very language is now off limits to us because large corporations say so.

It's bad enough in the wine world that we're fighting over place names and appellations that sound the same (witness the battle lost by Friuli who can no longer make a wine called Tocai Friulano because "Tocai" sounds too much like Tokaji, the famous Hungarian wine). But now we're seeing battles over normal, everyday words.

My heart goes out to poor Kathleen and Simon Inman, proprietors of Inman Family Vineyards, a winery that just got started three or four years ago in the Russian River Valley. Their vineyard property (along with several other famous wineries) lies on Olivet Road in Sonoma County, and so she opted to name her vineyard Olivet Grange Vineyard. But what should happen when she released her Olivet Grange Vineyard Pinot Noir last year?

Penfolds Estate, the Australian company owned by the liquor giant Fosters, sued, claiming they owned the exclusive right to use the word Grange on a wine label.

If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention. Can I outline the reasons that this is so utterly stupid, and frankly just plain mean?

1. It's a common word in the English language. Since when does anyone own the exclusive right to it in any form?

2. It's the name of their vineyard, for Pete's sake. Penfolds Grange is just the proper name for the wine. It is not made from the Grange vineyard (Grange is made from several vineyard sources).

3. Wine 1 is named: Inman Family Vineyards "Olivet Grange Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley. Wine 2 is named Penfolds Grange, Barossa Valley, Australia. What moron is going to get these mixed up?

4. Did I mention it's a frikkin Pinot Noir!!!! Who is going to confuse a $40 Pinot from Sonoma with a $200 Syrah from Down Under? Boggles the mind.

5. Inman family wines makes something like 3000 cases a year. Penfolds? Probably 150,000. So where's the threat? Inman doesn't even have the money to challenge this ridiculous lawsuit in court. They just have to roll over. Which is, of course, precisely what Foster's wants.

The sad thing is, this sort of shit happens all the time in the corporate world, and with more frequency every passing year. Yet the folks who work at these big corporations (not just in the wine world) are constantly complaining about the fact that they are painted by so many people to be big evil monsters.

Well here's a tip for the Foster's and the other big companies of the world who think you own words just because they've been on your label for years: try spending your money on something productive and keeping a leash on your rabid lawyers for a change and you'll be surprised how people might treat you. Or, you can just keep being pricks about stuff like this and you'll always be the companies that people love to hate.

Inman Family Vineyards will be releasing their Pinot Noirs from now on labeled "OGV."

Read more details at Wine & Spirits Daily.

Comments (27)

Fabrizio wrote:
03.08.07 at 1:35 AM

Ernst Gallo died a couple of days ago, a sad news, but I cannot forget his fierce legal battles to stop a couple of italian producers to use the Gallo brand on their bottles, their only fault was to have Ernst's very same (italian) family name.
Moreover he has been even able to force Chianti's consortium "Gallo Nero" (black cock), whose roots goes back in the middleage, to stop using the word "Gallo" in their labels.
It seems to me that the name is seldom more relevant than what is inside the bottle...

03.08.07 at 5:27 AM

He he he... I love it when someone with the guts just get to step over some nearly-autocratic company's foot.
Excelent way to spit it out, Alder.

Kim wrote:
03.08.07 at 7:05 AM

Can you say Gallo Dairy & Cheese Co.? Actually, no. You can't.

Farley wrote:
03.08.07 at 7:45 AM

Good post, Alder. We have a Merlot on sale right now because if we don't sell it by August, we'll get sued by another winery who copyrighted the same name of the (different!) vineyard that's listed on the label.

Sheesh, people!

Anonymous wrote:
03.08.07 at 9:32 AM

You people have no repect for intellectual property and are very un-american. It is communist to steal someone's hard work and property.

The problem with the US is there are too many liberals like you who want to take away hard earned property rights.

And Alder, next time you call use the expression "Brown Eyed Girl" you should have to pay Van Morrison $5 for the privelege. You would never ever think about describing someone as a "Brown Eyed Girl" unless Van the Man had not thought it up for you.

Anonymous wrote:
03.08.07 at 10:49 AM

I am surprised that there are not any lawyers that would have stepped up for the chance to 1) Fight the "MAN" 2)Get name recognition 3)Fulfill Pro bono work requirements 4) Do a good deed!!!

Jason wrote:
03.08.07 at 12:18 PM

Well put, Alder. This case is ridiculous and mean-spirited, and will make me think twice before buying another bottle from Penfold's.

As a young member of the legal community, I would love to take a pro bono case like this, but sadly, the partners are generally the only ones with the time for such things.

Arthur wrote:
03.08.07 at 12:20 PM

I have anoter one for you, Alder:
Some years ago Hop Kiln (Russian River)reportedly trademarked "Primitivo" - the variety...
Now THAT'S called having big ones.

Jack wrote:
03.08.07 at 8:20 PM

Farley - You mean trademarked, not copyrighted.

Sonadora wrote:
03.09.07 at 6:20 AM

I too would love to take a pro-bono case like this. Sadly, the same concept that prevents a small winery like this from fighting a huge corporation would also prevent the vast majority of lawyers from being able to take the case. If I'm one attorney doing the pro-bono work, how would I compete against Foster's corporate team and resources? You'd have to have a team of attorneys and paralegals with all the time in the world and the resources to spend on court filings, document production and document review (among other things)because the big corporation is going to kill you with paper.

brett wrote:
03.09.07 at 7:32 AM

Hi, I'll (probably) be the only person to take the Penfolds position. I can picture someone like my grandmother, who has no wine knowledge beyond what the best White Zin is, walking into a wine store to buy me a Christmas gift. She says "my grandson likes Grange--do you have any?" I love Aussie Shiraz and find Pinot horrifically overpriced. So if there is a CA Pinot wine bottle with the label "Grange" that the wine-shop owner points her to, she will spend a bunch of money and I, the recipient, will be seriously disappointed.

And the CA pinot with the "Grange" label will have sold a bottle only on the name recognition.

Is the ideal solution killing anyone who wants to use "Grange" in their label? Sounds stupid, but maybe it's appropriate . . .

Expecting to be persecuted,

Brett

Carl wrote:
03.09.07 at 8:25 AM

Brett,

Ok, here's your persecution. Does Rutherford Hill own the word Hill? How many wine names include "Creek", "Mount", "Lake", "River", etc.? The point is "grange" is a common English word, unlike Gallo, Budweiser, and McDonald's.
With apologies to your grandmother, Alder is right -- you'd have to be an idiot to mistake Inman Family Vineyards Olivet Grange Vineyard Pinot Noir for Penfold's Grange Barossa Valley Syrah. I assume she'd have the same problem with a $700 bottle of Chateau Margaux and $20 bottle of Chateau Souverain. Or, how about Silver Oak Cabernet ($100) versus J. Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet ($16)? Sorry, the "confusion" argument doesn't hold much water (let alone wine).

As for the previous post from the anonymous neo-con twit, I'd bet my last bottle of Opus One the term "brown-eyed girl" was uttered a thousand times before Van Morrison was born.

Alder wrote:
03.09.07 at 8:38 AM

Carl,

Thanks for the comments. Totally agree with your "rebuttal" to Brett. However, I think you missed the irony in that anonymous neo-con's post. I took it as a complete joke. It was the Brown Eyed Girl line that put it over the top, for me (though the use of the descriptor "communist" was a tip-off).

St. Vini wrote:
03.09.07 at 9:56 AM

A couple of belated comments:

As to the need for a lawyer to step up and "fight the man" - Mr. Inman is a wine-industry lawyer at a successful Sonoma County law firm, so I think he was well represented. ;)

As for extending sympathy, the Inman's have gotten more press over this (intentionally) during the last week than they ever had previously. Had anybody here ever heard of their wines before last week?

Yes, fights over Intellectual Property have become exceedingly stupid, but David is coming out better than you might think against Goliath....

V

Alder wrote:
03.09.07 at 10:03 AM

Vini,

Well I had heard of their wines (and rated some of them well in the past). I'm sure you're right about the publicity.

I didn't know Simon was a lawyer. Interesting.

Melanie wrote:
03.09.07 at 10:22 AM

I have to agree that the idea that anyone can mix up these wines based simply on the name. Even if I don't know what kind of wine it is that my grandmother wants, I ask a few questions before going to look! Is it white? Is it red? Does she remember anything about the label other than one word? With a basic amount of human intelligence this shouldn't be a problem. I think the problem here is the ego, NOT the words.

brett wrote:
03.09.07 at 11:00 AM

Carl,

Maybe I didn't specify my point well enough. It is that "Grange", though a common noun in English, has also entered the wine vernacular as reference to a specific wine. Wine lovers refer to a bottle of Grange, or a bottle of Opus. I've never heard of someone think back to an evening of wine revelry and say "I had a bottle of '97 Hill" or "Boy that '82 Chateau was singing" or "Oak was really good until they ramped up production" to use your examples.

So though I agree that the idea of protecting a common noun is in general absurd, in certain cases where that word has entered the specialized wine vocabulary it still seems worth doing.

brett

PS FWIW, I neither buy nor sell Penfolds, just in case folks think I'm somehow associated with them . . .

Phil wrote:
03.09.07 at 11:40 AM

Brett,

Why would you want your grandmother to spend $200 on a bottle of wine for you? If she spends $40 on the Pinot, at least you can regift it, or you can open it, and let her try it out. Maybe she'll learn a little about wine?

Alder wrote:
03.09.07 at 12:37 PM

Brett,

The clincher in this one for me is the difference between a word used as a proper name for a wine and that same word used in the name of the vineyard that a wine comes from. The Penfolds wine is named "Penfolds Grange." The Inman's wine is named "Inman Family Vineyards Pinot Noir." The Inman wine has a vineyard designation on it that happens to include the word "Grange." I think there's miles of difference between this and say a wine hypothetically called Inman Family Vineyards "Grange Walker" or something like that (but even then, I think the claim of trademark infringement is tenuous at best).

Tish wrote:
03.09.07 at 4:51 PM

At the risk of sounding like I am siding wholly with the corporate robber barons of the wine-name world, I just have to say that most of the discussion above about naming "rights" has any legal relevance, and alas, legality of trademark registration is all that matters here. It's why Gallo has been so able to strongarm others. It's why Penfolds proactively protected the name Grange. The idea that Inman is a lawyer and didn't foresee trouble boggles my mind; maybe he anticipated the notoriety and wishes it came even sooner?...

Trademarks are serious legal business. I am getting a crash course firsthand as I am part of a civic group in my town, Katonah, NY, and we are currently butting heads with Martha Stewart over her company's attempt to trademark the town name for her new line of furniture, paint and home decor goods. Fortunately, we caught the situation before the trademark was actually registered, but our being able to stop it is not black and white, even though there is only ONE Katonah and it has been around for more than a century.

On a related subject, Alder, have you trademarked Vinography? It would not be a bad idea, even though your blog clearly establishes your usage of the term. There are only so many Vin-variations around, and next thing you know, someone may want to make Vinography Vino... If you have it marked, you would be in a position to protect your identity in cases where similarly named good/services might adversely affect you. Food for thought.

Alder wrote:
03.09.07 at 5:01 PM

Tish,

I have indeed trademarked Vinography, thanks for asking, but my experience doing that gave me some limited understanding of how the process and regulations work. While I'm sure that Penfolds has trademarked the proper name "Grange" for their wine, I can't imagine that means that this word can never appear on another wine label without infringing that trademark.

But then again, I'm not a lawyer.

Alder wrote:
03.10.07 at 5:26 PM

More food for thought:

I wonder if Penfolds has bothered to sue the Bordeaux chateau named Domaine Grange-Neuve?

Arthur wrote:
03.10.07 at 5:53 PM

Is this a case of: "there's always a bigger fish"?

Joanna wrote:
03.11.07 at 2:56 PM

Brett's poor innocent grandma would be the victim, not the idiot, here. What wine merchant would respond to a request for Grange with a $40 Pinot Noir?
And let us not overlook the irony that Penfold's Grange used to be called Grange Hermitage. They were forced to remove the name of the northern Rhone appellation because of EU objections.

P.S.
Gallo sued Pine Ridge's Gary Andrus over his Andrus Reserve Cabernet, claiming it might be confused with Andre's. Coors sued Corr's Ginseng Rush, a once tasty extinct soft drink sold mainly in health food stores.

03.13.07 at 1:04 PM

Words can be a big thing...
I understand both sides of the word battel! Although in this case I do think it is being pushed a bit far!
Some words need a proper wine definition. For example I make a few hundred cases of an intensely flavored Zinfandel from a vineyard I personally tend (we have farmed it for over 35 years) and were planted Circa 1906. I call the wine "Old Vine Zinfandel". You can now find other zinfandels labeled "Old Vine" that are from vineyards less than 25 years old & what's worse that are often of poor character!

Joanna wrote:
03.15.07 at 12:07 PM

Adding to the confusion, Tokay has been used on Alsatian labels in conjunction with Pinot Gris. It is supposed to be phased out but you still see it. Tokaj is a place, Tokaji means "of Tokaj", Tocai is a grape, and Tokay is a pseudonym. In this case. the consumer is legitimately baffled and it is probably for the best that something be done. The name Tocai Friulano is a coincidence bearing the unfortunate brunt of this sacrifice.

Joel wrote:
04.30.07 at 7:06 AM

This whole thing about people misunderstanding one label for another really comes down to communication. If the grandmother would really talk to the grandson she would know it comes from Australia, and if the grandson were perhaps not so greedy he would not have mentioned such an over priced yet fabulous wine. These two people should really just sit down and share a glass of wine and have a conversation, rather than run off to purchase a gift to replace the time spent with each other. Since this is often the case, they both deserve to be confused and/or deceived.

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