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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.

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