In the wine industry, trademark infringement lawsuits are nothing new: in fact, they’ve been sprouting up with the regularity of mushrooms in the damp, dark forest. Recently, though, two cases have taken the category to a new low.
You’re probably familiar with Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. It’s one of Bordeaux’s five First Growths, and ranks as one of the world’s greatest wine estates. They produce about 20,000 cases annually from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, and bottles can easily fetch $1000 in a good vintage.
It’s just as likely that you’ve never heard of Domaine Mouton in Burgundy. The property is a fourth-generation estate located in the relatively obscure region of Givry. They make about 5,000 cases of Pinot Noir in a typical year, with the average bottle selling for $30.
Now, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild has filed suit against Domaine Mouton, demanding that the Burgundy producer cease and desist from using their name on the label—because it’s potentially “confusing” to consumers. The lawsuit ignores the fact that the two estates are in totally different areas, that one wine is Cabernet and the other is Pinot Noir, that the bottles are shaped differently, that the labels bear no resemblance to each other, and that Domaine Mouton sells for less than 5% of its more famous counterpart.
Unfortunately, it gets worse. If you have enough disposable cash, you probably know about Cartier, the world-famous producer of luxury watches. You’ve likely never heard of Carter Cellars, a tiny Napa Valley winery that makes small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon. Owner Mark Carter had received some harassment about ten years ago from Cartier lawyers, but managed to convince them they didn’t have a case. Unfortunately, after one of Carter’s Cabernets received 100 points from the Wine Spectator and was featured on the cover, Cartier hit them with a lawsuit.
Can you tell the difference between an expensive watch and a bottle of red wine? I think I can, but don’t tell that to Cartier.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press; his second book, Moonshine Nation, will be released by Lyons press on July 15. For more information, go to amazon.com