Patagonia, Inc. Might Have Champagne Problems

Wine collection

I’ve got Patagonia on my mind. Next week I’m actually headed to Patagonia to go fly fishing. But last week I reviewed the wines that the company Patagonia, Inc. recently released as part of their Patagonia Provisions line of foodstuffs.

I’m, as I said in that article, a big fan of the company, and the wines were a pretty impressive first effort.

But today I learned that Patagonia may soon have more problems than deciding which wine to release next.

You see, there’s a legally defined wine region known as Patagonia, and according to a press release they issued today, they’re none too happy about wines being sold under the name Patagonia that don’t come from that region.

Funnily enough, my friend and colleague Alfonso Cevola commented on my initial review of those wines, saying, in effect, “how hard would it have been for them to make sure one of their first wines actually was from Patagonia?”

Not that doing so would have actually avoided the nastygrams the company is probably getting from the Argentinians at the moment.

The clothing company is hardly the first company to run into problems with Protected Geographical Indications. The Comité Champagne Interprofessional Champagne (aka CIVC) has famously sued any number of non-wine companies for the use of the word Champagne over the years. They don’t approve of the use of the word Champagne as a color, nor as a metaphor, famously embodied in the phase “the Champagne of beers.

But the folks in the Argentine wine region have a slightly stronger case to make here than the Champenoise. No one in their right mind is going to accept the argument that using the phrase “Champagne of Beers” is going to confuse wine consumers.

On the other hand, it seems quite plausible to argue that a set of wines sold by a company named Patagonia Provisions has a very real chance of misleading consumers about where they come from.

Patagonia, however, seems like it has either deliberately or accidentally made some effort to minimize the possibility of confusion. All their wine products carry the primary branding of their producers, not Patagonia Provisions. The Meinklang wines have a label designed by the producer and with their logotype on the front of it. Patagonia Provisions, if it shows up at all, shows up more like the name of the importer might on an international producer’s wines.

That said, the wines themselves are being marketed and advertised as products from a company named Patagonia Provisions. The case that the Argentinians will have to make (and it sounds like they’re gearing up to make it) will be that simply being offered for sale by a company named Patagonia has the potential to cause consumer confusion.

When asked for comment on this issue, the following response from Birgit Cameron, co-founder, and head of Patagonia Provisions eventually made it back to me through official PR channels: “We’ve used the stylized Patagonia Provisions labels on the back of a curated collection of third-party wines, ciders, and sakes from around the world that celebrate restorative farming and wine-making practices. The use of the logo is meant to draw a connection to Patagonia’s 50-year history of pioneering new ways of doing things to save our home planet.”

To me, the answer isn’t perfectly clear-cut. I think Patagonia has done what it can to minimize the potential for confusion, but nonetheless, the Argentinians may have a valid point.

I fully expect the question to be answered by a judge at some point in the not-too-distant future.