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Last week, California District Court Judge Donato denied Union Wine Company’s motion to dismiss a suit launched against the wine company by FN Cellars, LLC. FN Cellars originally brought suit against Union Wine seeking (1) declaratory judgment of validity for FN Cellars’ trademark; (2) a declaration that its mark does not infringe upon Union Cellars’ mark; and (3) cancellation of Union Wine’s mark. See FN Cellars, LLC vs. Union Wine Company, Case No. 15-cv-02301-JD. Union Wine originally moved to dismiss the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on the grounds that the interactions between Union Wine and FN Cellars had not given rise to a justiciable case or controversy. The court last week denied Union Wine’s motion to dismiss. Full opinion can be read here

FN Cellars is the owner of BELLA UNION mark (registered by the USPTO on October 7, 2014) and Union Wine is the owner of UNION WINE CO. (registered by the USPTO on February 18, 2014). On June 15, 2014, after a Notice of Allowance for BELLA UNION mark was issued, Union Wine sent FN Cellars a letter asserting rights to UNION WINE CO. mark. In the letter, Union Wine mentioned there was a likelihood of confusion between the marks due to the fact that the marks both contain the word UNION, the goods are identical, the goods move in the same channels of trade and will be purchased by the same type of consumers. Thus, Union Wine intended to petition to cancel the BELLA UNION registration if issued. Union also requested that FN Cellars abandon the USPTO application. Id. at 2. A more detailed account of the exchange can be accessed through a read of the Court’s opinion.

Union Wine filed a petition to cancel FN Cellars’ mark in February 2015, arguing that the marks were “highly similar,” and that BELLA UNION was likely to cause confusion, mistake, or misrepresent with respect to the association between FN Cellars and Union Wine Co. The TTAB stayed the petition after the case at hand was filed in the California District Court by FN Cellars.

The Declaratory Judgment Act allows the Court to “‘declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party’ to a ‘case of actual controversy within its jurisdiction.’” Id. quoting 28 U.S.C.§ 2201(a). Courts in the past have found that a case exists when a dispute is definite and concrete and can be addressed by definitive relief through a conclusive judgment. For jurisdiction to be found, a substantial controversy must exist between the parties. Prior decisions have found trademark disputes to be justiciable under the Declaratory Judgment Act when a plaintiff has both real and reasonable apprehension of, e.g., a threat of litigation. Id. at 3.

The Court noted that its jurisdiction in this Case for FN Cellar’s first and third claims (i.e., the declaratory judgment of validity for BELLA UNION and for cancellation of Union Wine’s mark) was contingent upon there being subject matter jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s second claim, i.e., the claim for declaratory judgment of non-infringement for the BELLA UNION mark (i.e., no independent subject matter jurisdiction for the declaratory judgment of validity and for the cancellation of the mark at issue). Id. at 4. Union Wine argued against a finding of subject matter jurisdiction because Union did not threaten FN Cellars with litigation but instead only mentioned its intention to petition to cancel the BELLA UNION registration if issued. Union further argued that there was no “justiciable controversy here because ‘the filing of a TTAB action . . . without more is insufficient to support a declaratory judgment action for non-infringement.’” Id. at 4 (quoting kt. No. 20 at 8).

The California District Court found that the records between the parties indicated there was, indeed, a “substantial controversy” and such was “definite and concrete” to be addressed by the Court. Id. at 5. In doing, so the Court reviewed and focused on Union’s June 2014 letter to FN Cellars in which Union outlined its intention to pursue a cancellation petition unless  FN Cellars abandoned the BELLA UNION mark and provided Union with “an unequivocal undertaking not to use [the BELLA UNION] mark on wine.” Id. at 5 quoting Dkt. No. 17. From its review of the supporting documents, the Court determined that an actual and justiciable controversy was “amply establish[ed].” Id. The Court also looked at evidence that Union Wine filed a cancellation action as additional support for the finding of a controversy. 

Union Wine argued that its June 2014 letter contained infringement language, as an attempt to explain the process and grounds for the cancellation action. The Court, however, took the stance that such did not discount or remove the reasonable apprehension that the language used was an infringement threat. “The letter did not need to contain an express threat that defendant would sue, or any other formulaic words, to create an actual controversy.” Id. 

Taking into account all the facts, the Court reasoned that a declaratory action was appropriate in this action and thus denied Union Wine’s motion to dismiss. 

For more information on wine or alcohol law, labeling, or trademark, please contact Lindsey Zahn.

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is for general information purposes only, is not intended to constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship results. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice.

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Budweiser Wins Trademark Opposition Over Winebud

Bud Beer Likelihood of confusion Budweiser wine budLast week, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) issued an opinion that sided with Anheuser-Busch, LLC’s opposition of the registration of the mark WINEBUD. See Anheuser-Busch, LLC v. Innvopak Systems Pty Ltd., Opposition No. 91194148 (August 17, 2015) [precedential]. The applicant, Innvopak Systems Party Limited, originally filed an application to register the mark WINEBUD in standard characters for alcohol beverages (except beers) and numerous sub-categories of wine in International Class 33.

As one might expect, Anheuser-Busch opposed the registration on the grounds of likelihood of confusion and dilution in light of the beer giant’s prior registration of the mark BUD and several other BUD-related marks for beer. Applicant denied these allegations of the notice of opposition. TTAB sustained the opposition.

Both Applicant and Opposer submitted a record containing several interesting pieces of evidence. For example, Anheuser-Busch submitted the testimony of an expert who conducted a likelihood of confusion survey. Applicant submitted an article from Wine Business Monthly that recognized the term “vine bud” as a viticultural term. Applicant also submitted evidence suggesting that “Budweiser” is a surname and also possibly descriptive.

The Board quickly disclaimed “priority” as an issue becauseas evident from Anheuser-Busch’s submission of many prior registrations containing the word “BUD,” as well as evident from its continual use of BUD and BUDWEISER for beer long before Applicant’s priority date. Thus, the Board’s examination quickly shifted over to a fame analysis as the Board considered whether BUD and BUDWEISER had extensive public recognition. When fame is found, the mark is entitled to great weight in the likelihood of confusion analysis (i.e., can play a dominant role). In determining fame, the Board considers an array of relevant factors including (but not limited to) sales, advertising, and length of use. Undoubtedly, the Board found both BUD and BUDWEISER satisfied the “fame” test through its excessive use in advertisements, at major sporting events, for sponsorships, etc.. (Anheuser-Busch has used its BUDWEISER mark on beer uninterruptedly, with the exception of Prohibition, since 1876.)

Next, the Board moved to an analysis discussing the similarity or dissimilarity of the marks with respect to appearance, sound, connotation, and commercial impression. As blogged about previously, this test doesn’t look to a side-by-side comparison of the marks but instead studies whether the marks are sufficiently similar with respect to their commercial impression such that an individual who sees the marks would be likely to assume there is a connection between the marks. The marks are considered in their entireties. The Board stated the obvious, i.e., that WINEBUD is similar to BUD because it incorporated the term “BUD” which is, indeed, Opposer’s entire mark. At the same time, the Board noted that WINEBUD clearly added another word entirely (i.e., “WINE”).

Of course, Anheuser-Busch argued that “wine” is generic for WINEBUD’s goods, which could lead consumers likely to confuse the relevant marks at issue. And, of course, Applicant argued that the marks were highly dissimilar with respect to appearance, sound, connotation, and commercial impression. Applicant relied on the fact that “vine bud” is a recognized term of viticulture. Applicant went so far as to describe the origin of WINE and BUD (Old or Middle English derivation) and “‘WINEBUD’ is thus a fanciful compound noun formed from the nouns WINE and BUD, an analogy to horticultural words such as ‘rosebud.’” Id. at 13 (quoting Applicant’s Brief). Further, Applicant noted the derivation of BUDWEISER (i.e., a town in the Czech Republic and the name of a style of lager brewed in the city of České Budějovice in Bohemia) and extended to BUD; Applicant further contended that BUDWEISER gives a different commercial impression than WINEBUD. Truthful, yes, but of course there is more to a mark than its dictionary definition or overall impression.

Nonetheless, the Board was not persuaded by Applicant’s arguments, noting it unlikely that the class of consumers in this instance would associate BUDWEISER with a small, bohemian town. The Board noted issues such as, i.e., there was no evidence to suggest that consumers in the U.S. associated BUD or BUDWEISER with the bohemian town, nor that they have heard of České Budějovice. Even though the bohemian city may be Budweiser’s origin, the Board relayed that given Anheuser-Busch’s use and marketing of BUDWEISER over the last 150 years, there’s no evidence U.S. consumers would associate it with its origin.

The Board further struck down Applicant’s reliance on one piece of evidence in regard to “vine bud,” finding the single reference insufficient to conclude that the term is recognized in the field of viticulture, let alone by purchasers of alcohol beverage products. In addition, the Board noted the following:

  • Consumers would immediately recognize “WINE” (generic term) especially when used on a wine product.
  • Descriptive or generic terms like WINE serve little source-identifying function.
  • Thus, consumers are not likely to recognize WINE as a source-identifying element of Applicant’s mark (but rather the name of the goods).
  • BUD is the dominant portion of WINEBUD, which is obviously identical to Opposer’s mark BUD.
  • BUD is the term in the mark WINEBUD that consumers are likely to focus on.
  • The term in Applicant’s mark is identical in sound and appearance to Opposer’s mark.
  • The generic mark WINE is insufficient to distinguish it from BUD. 
  • As a result, WINEBUD is highly similar to BUD and this favors a finding of likelihood of confusion.

Id. at 18–20.

Next, the Board studied the similarity or dissimilarity of the nature of the goods, the channels of trade, the classes of the consumers, and the conditions of sale. Applicant identified its goods as “alcohol beverages except beers” and Opposer’s goods are beer. Time and time again, the Board has weighed in favor of finding a similarity between all three alcohol beverage commodities with respect to this type of analysis (i.e., nature of goods, channels of trade, classes of consumers, etc.). Such was the case in this instance. The Board noted that Applicant did not cite any precedential decisions where the Board found beer and wine to be unrelated for the purposes of a likelihood of confusion analysis. Further, the Board contended that beer and wine are frequently sold at the same channels, such as retail outlets, supermarkets, and bars. Despite many arguments on behalf of Applicant and Opposer, the Board had no trouble once again finding that relatedness of the goods, overlap in channels of trade and classes of consumers, and conditions of purchase weighed in favor of likelihood of confusion. 

After a lengthy discussion about the Blair survey submitted by Opposer, which can be read in greater detail at Anheuser-Busch, LLC v. Innvopak Systems Pty Ltd., Opposition No. 91194148 (August 17, 2015) [precedential], the Board weighed the aforementioned factors and found in favor of Opposer. Specifically, the Board concluded that Applicant’s wine is similar to Opposer’s beer, the goods travel in the same channels of trade to the same classes of consumers, and the goods are purchased by ordinary consumers who are unlikely to exercise care in their purchases. Id. at 36. The Board refused registration of WINEBUD on the grounds of likelihood of confusion with Anheuser-Busch’s BUD mark. 

For more information on wine or alcohol law, labeling, or trademark, please contact Lindsey Zahn.

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is for general information purposes only, is not intended to constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship results. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice.

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TTAB Allows Trademark Registration of French Town Montussan

Montussan France Bordeaux Wine Law TrademarkIn a recent TTAB opinion, the Board reversed a prior decision of an Examining Attorney who refused to register a mark alluding to a French town Montussan. See In re Montussan Apertifs SAS, Serial No. 86172886 (August 12, 2015) [not precedential]. Applicant (Montussan Apertifs SAS) originally filed an application to register the mark MOUNTUSSAN (in standard characters) on the Principal Register in International Class 33 (for, predominantly, alcohol beverages). The Examining Attorney refused registration on the ground that the mark violated Section 2(e)(2) of the Trademark Act 15 U.S.C. §1052(e)(2) because the mark was geographically descriptive. Applicant filed a request for reconsideration and appealed the final refusal; Examining Attorney denied the request.

When is a Mark Geographically Descriptive? 

A mark can be geographically descriptive if the mark conveys to consumers a primarily or immediately geographical connotation and the goods or services come from that geographic area. If a mark is primarily geographically descriptive, it can still be registered on the Supplemental Register, or on the Principal Register if it shows under Section 2(f) that the mark has become distinctive of the party’s goods in commerce. In the foregoing opinion, the Board noted that the test for determining whether a mark is geographically descriptive is as follows:

  1. Whether the mark is the name of a place known generally to the public; and
  2. The public would make a goods/place association (i.e., believe that the goods originate from the named place).

Id. citing In re Societe Generale des Eaux Minerales de Vittel S.A., 824 F.2d 957, 3 USPQ2d 1450 (Fed. Cir. 1987). The Board noted that, if the goods do originate from the place named, a goods/place association can be presumed and the Examining Attorney bears the burden of establishing that an Applicant’s mark is geographically descriptive. Id. at 3.

Is Montussan Geographically Descriptive? 

In determining whether Montussan is geographically descriptive, TTAB looked to a prior case known as Vittel and relied, in part, on the holding. In particular: “[I]t is necessary that the purchasers perceive the mark as a place name and this is where the question of obscurity or remoteness comes to the fore.” Id. quoting 3 USPQ2d at 1452. In that case, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that Vittel was the name of a French town and queried as to how many people in the U.S. knew Vittel was a French town. Ultimately, the Court determined there was insufficient evidence to determine the relevant public would believe Vittel to be the origin of the goods at issue. 

To support his position that Montussan was geographically descriptive, the Examining Attorney submitted evidence including (but not limited to) the following:

  • A screenshot from the website france-voyage.com that showed Montussan is a town of almost 3,000 residents in the Gironde department of France and is located about 15 kilometers from Bordeaux (the city) and includes vineyards, along with a company featuring viniculture lessons;
  • A screenshot from Wikipedia noting similar facts (i.e., Montussan is located in Gironde portion of France);
  • Screenshots from various travel sites including TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Expedia, and Yelp; and
  • Results of Google Maps to show that Montussan was several miles from Bordeaux.

The above evidence was used to support the Attorney’s position that Montussan is not an obscure or remote location from the point of view of American consumers. Id. at 5. (Other evidence was submitted by the Attorney, but the Board rejected it due to its truncated nature or due to the fact that the content was primarily in a foreign language.)

After reviewing the record, the Board found that the evidence did not support the claim that Montussan is a generally known to the relevant public, especially to prospective purchasers of wine and spirits.  Instead, the Board noted Montussan is “an obscure location” and “would likely be unknown to the relevant American consumer” and instead supports that Montussan may be known by travelers to the region. Id. at 6. The Board noted that the record was absent of American consumer recognition of Montussan and contained no evidence indicating recognition of Montussan by Americans of French ancestry or by those with connections to France, Bordeaux, or French winemaking. 

The Examining Attorney also argued that, given Montussan’s close proximity to Bordeaux city, as well as the fact that Applicant’s wine qualifies as wine from Bordeaux, and given the recognition of Bordeaux wines among American purchasers, such purchasers are likely to know Montussan as a geographic location in Bordeaux that produces Bordeaux wine. Again, the Board refuted this argument and focused on the fact that the Attorney provided no evidence to support his claim that Americans would recognize Montussan as Bordeaux wine. “The location of this town of less than 3000 inhabitants 9 miles from a much larger and more prominent city reveals nothing about what the relevant American purchaser might perceive the word ‘Montussan’ to mean, and is too insignificant to show that Montussan is a place known generally to the American purchasing public.” Id. at 7.

Because the record did not establish that the relevant American consumer is generally aware of the town of Montussan in France, the Board determined that the consumer would not believe the term MONTUSSAN on wine or spirits to be geographically descriptive. The first part of the geographically descriptive test was not met. Thus, the refusal to register the mark on 2(e)(2) grounds was reversed by the Board.

From a more technical perspective—and not surprisingly—the TTB public COLA database currently houses only seven (7) label approvals for wines containing the word “Montussan” somewhere on the label. All of these labels refer to “Bordeaux” (or some variation thereof) as the appellation.

Image property of “Lo Camin” de Montussan.

For more information on wine or alcohol law, labeling, or trademark, please contact Lindsey Zahn.

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is for general information purposes only, is not intended to constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship results. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice.

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Wine Law Program University Reims Champange 2015This summer, I had the absolute honor of being invited to attend the University of Reims’ Wine & Law Program in Champagne, France as a faculty member. I attended this same program several years ago when I was still a student in law school and had an incredible experience, one that pushed me to pursue beverage law as my career. The Program was one of the highlights of my law school studies, and the chance to participate as a faculty member has certainly been one of the highlights of my career as an attorney.

The University of Reims’ Wine & Law Program is directed by Professor Theodore Georgopoulos and consists of a full-year program (Master’s Degree) along with a summer program. The first summer school program was held during the summer of 2010 and, each year, the Program has a different session title or focus. The Program takes place in Reims, in the heart of the Champagne region of France, making it an ideal location for students looking to learn more about Champagne. While I cannot speak about the full-year program from personal experience, the summer program is a great mix of academia and educational extracurricular activities. University Reims Wine Law Champagne Lindsey Zahn

This year, the Program focused on Wine Law and Wine Marketing and explored this topic in the context of EU, Australian, and U.S. law. Courses examined concepts like the regulation of alcohol advertisements, health limits on the promotion of wine, ethics in wine marketing, and geographical indications. Faculty included Professor Theodore Georgopoulos, Professor Vicki Waye, Professor Steve Charters, Professor Andrew Plantinga, and myself.

Professor Georgopoulos explored the exhilarating topic of  EU wine law, particularly with respect to geographical indications and interesting developments in the EU’s wine and vine sector; Professor Waye spoke about the challenges of wine in Australia’s regulatory environment in the context of marketing, geographical indications, health, and advertisements and labeling. Professor Plantinga conducted a thought-provoking discussion entitled, What is the Value of Terroirand examined what terroir means to consumers, the marketplace, and to industryUniversity Reims Wine Law Summer Program US Law Lindsey Zahn members. Professor Charters lead a wine tasting in tandem with a lecture on wine history and wine economics. Finally, my own course consisted of an analysis of the federal regulatory landscape of wine in the U.S., with an overview on the history of wine regulation, the TTB, labeling and advertising, direct shipping, social media, and tied house. It was an extremely eventful week, and one I look back on fondly.

Of course, a week of studies is not complete without several visits to the surrounding lands of Champagne. This year, the Program included visits to the maison Mercier in Épernay, the cooperative La Goutte d’Or in Vertus, the Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims, and a visit to the caves of Veuve Clicquot Reims.

Once again, the Wine & Law Program was a wonderful experience for me. I sincerely hope this is only the beginning of my academic career in wine law, as the chance to teach a course was truly inspiring.

My sincere thanks to the University of Reims and Professor Georgopoulos for this incredible opportunity.

Photographs property of the University of Reims Wine & Law Program.

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On August 6, 2015, TTB issued a proposed rule to establish a new American Viticultural Area. TTB is accepting comments through October 5, 2015 on a proposed American Viticultural Area (“AVA”) called “Tip of the Mitt,” as per a proposed rule in the Federal Register on June 30, 2015. The proposed AVA is as follows:

  • The proposed AVA is located in the northern portion of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan and contains 2,760-square miles not located within (nor does it contain) any established AVA. It contains 41 commercial vineyards, eight bonded wineries, and about 94 acres. There are four bonded wineries and an additional 48 acres in the process of being planned. The petition proposing the AVA explains that the name “Tip of the Mitt” comes from the fact the lower peninsula of Michigan is shaped liked a mitten and the proposed AVA is located in the “tip” of the mitten.
  • Distinguishing features include climate and soil. The proposed AVA is surrounded by water on its north, west, and east sides, thus the petition noted the proposed region contrasts from the area directly south. The climate is warmer due to the “westerly prevailing winds that distribute warmer air from the surface of Lake Michigan across the region.” Docket No. TTB–2015–0011–0155. The petition also includes data suggesting that the region south has a lower annual temperature, which contributes to the types of grape varietals that can be grown in the southern portion, as well as information on the growing season of the proposed AVA and an assertion that the soil content contains high level of organic matter along with coarse-textured glacial till and Lacustrine sand and gravel. 
  • The petition was filed by the Straits Area Grape Growers Association on behalf of the local vineyard and winery owners.

In addition, on August 7, 2015, TTB issued a final rule to establish the new American Viticultural Area Squaw Valley-Miramonte. The rule is effective starting September 8, 2015 and contains approximately 44,690-acres in Fresno County, California. See T.D. TTB-129: Establishment of the Squaw Valley-Miramonte Viticultural Area. The petition was originally filed by Christine Flannigan, owner of the Sierra Peaks Winery and Purgatory Vineyards, on behalf of the Squaw Valley Grape Growers Group. No comments were received. 

For more information on wine or alcohol law, AVAs, or TTB matters, please contact Lindsey Zahn.

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is for general information purposes only, is not intended to constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship results. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice.

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Willamette Valley Vineyards is suing Five Cent Farm, Inc., a neighboring farm. According to Statesman Journal, the lawsuit filed against Five Cent indicates that the Vineyard is claiming more than $400,000 in economic loss from damage to the Vineyard’s pinot noir grapes. The complaint states that Willamette Valley Vineyards has a sole source contract for pinot noir grapes grown at Elton Vineyards, the neighbor to Five Cent Farm. Allegedly, an herbicide drift at the Farm caused the Vineyard a “‘significant loss of high-end commercial pinot noir wine grapes.’” Id. (quoting a representative from the vineyard). The vineyard owner mentioned that Willamette Valley Vineyards has not suffered economic loss from pesticide usage in the past, however the use of pesticides by other parties is an ongoing issue for winery and vineyard owners. Pesticides are capable of drifting, and users of such can have legal obligations to ensure their use does not affect or damage the crops of third parties.

The Department of Agriculture was notified and an inspection was conducted, the completion of which established the occurrence of an herbicide drift, cause on behalf of Five Cent Farm. A full copy of the lawsuit is available at Willamette Valley Vineyards v. Five Center Farm, Inc. The suit, which was filed in the Circuit Court of the State of Oregon for the County of Polk, alleges the following:

  • “Approximately 12.7106 tons of high-end commercial pinot noir grapes were damaged and could not be harvested . . . result[ing] in a total loss of 826 cases of wine, for a total economic loss of $413,780.24.” Id. at 2.
  • The application of herbicides and pesticides constitutes an “abnormally dangerous activity” and results in strict liability damages for damages incurred. Id. at 3. 
  • The Vineyard made four claims of relief: (1) trespass; (2) conversion; (3) negligence; and (4) trespass to chattels.
    • The Farm’s spraying of herbicides that drifted onto the Vineyard is unauthorized entry, which constitutes trespass. Id. 
    • The Farm “wrongfully and intentionally exercised dominion and control” over the Vineyard’s grapes. Id. at 4. 
    • The Farm had a duty to apply the herbicides in a manner that would avoid damage to the Vineyard’s property; the Farm failed to “use reasonably care to avoid risk of foreseeable harm” by allowing the herbicide to drift onto the Vineyard’s property. Id. at 4.
    • The Farm’s action is “unauthorized interference with the interests of personal property . . . which constitutes trespass of chattels.” Id. at 5.

According to Statesman Journal, the owner of the Farm alleges that the Department of Agriculture could not find evidence that the damage to the Vineyard was necessarily the Farm’s fault.

The foregoing suit against Five Center Farm is a cut-and-dry tort suit with cut-and-dry claims, but what makes it interesting is the law’s application to the wine industry. The owner of Willamette Valley Vineyards is correct in saying that an agricultural issue such as an herbicide drift is an ongoing concern for winery and vineyard owners. Not only is there the potential loss of harvest and revenue, but there can be an even greater damages. For example, if the winery claims its wines are organic (or a similar “organic” claim) on its labels, an herbicide drift could certainly present difficult legal issues for the winemaker. Based on the website of the aforementioned vineyard, the terms “organic” do not appear on the labels or website of its wines, however claims such as “certified sustainable” or “made with sustainably grown grapes” or similar are present on labels and the website.

For more information on wine or alcohol law or TTB matters, please contact Lindsey Zahn.

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is for general information purposes only, is not intended to constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship results. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice.

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Champagne Alfred Gratien EpernayA few weeks ago, I had the absolute pleasure of spending an afternoon at and touring Alfred Gratien in Épernay. The maison has been producing wine since 1864 and takes pride in stating that its Champagne is hand-crafted. The house uses Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grape varieties, which represent the three types of grape varietals permitted for Champagnes (as locals will tell you, other varietals are used, but the abovementioned varietals are standard for Champagne). The grapes derive from three of Champagne’s regions: Côte des Blancs (Chardonnay), Montagne de Reims (Pinot Noir), and the Marne Valley (Pinot Meunier).

During my visit, I learned that the maison‘s first fermentation occurs in oak casks, which certainly contributes to the unique style of Alfred Gratien Champagnes. Alfred Gratien is actually one of the last houses in Champagne to age the wine in oak casks during first fermentation—many houses no longer use the oak casts for first fermentation and instead use stainless steel tanks. Further, the maison also does not use malolactic fermentation during Champagne production—the house believes this preserves the quality of the final Champagne and indeed it allows the wines to retain a higher level of acidity and, presumably, allows the wine to age better.   Alfred Gratien Champagne Tasting in Epernay

What I really enjoyed about my visit to Alfred Gratien is that, unlike some of the larger houses in Champagne I’ve visited, you can truly feel the emphasis on handcrafting the Champagne as well as the company’s desire to continually operate as a smaller house, in an effort to underscore quality and control. Indeed, it’s a success for Alfred Gratien: their Champagnes are well balanced and are notably different from other houses, but remain enjoyable with a great potential to age. The house actually produces no more than about 22,000 cases of wine per year, so while significant, the production is still enough to be considered small scale or small batch.

If you are visiting Épernay, I highly suggest stopping by Alfred Gratien if you can, or at least enjoying a bottle of their Champagne. 

Special thanks to Olivier Dupré and Andrea Sartor.

Photographs property of Lindsey Zahn.

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Clos Montmartre Paris Vineyard WineAs many times as I’ve visited Paris, I am actually disheartened to admit that—up until recently—I had never seen the hidden vineyard in Montmartre. After reading an article several weeks ago about Clos Montmartre, or the 1500 square meters of vineyard space covertly tucked behind the Sacré-Cœur, I knew it was a “must” for my next trip to the city. Luckily, work brought me to Reims this summer and I immediately put Clos Montmartre on my bucket list. I was able to make the journey to the vineyard early one morning, which truly could not have been more blissful. After a sweet serenade by a local harpist in front of the Basilica, I wandered the windy streets behind it to be greeted with an exciting surprise: Clos Montmartre.Clos Montmartre Paris Vineyard Winery

According to Paris Info:

This vineyard dates from 1932 and has a surface of 1556 square metres. You can find 27 varieties of wine including 75% of Gamay, 20% of Pinot, some stocks of white Sauvignon, Riesling.

Despite its size, it still bottles wine at harvest season during Fête des Vendanges, which feature labels designed by local artists and is mostly auctioned off for local charities.

Les Vinges Paris Vineyard Close MontmartreIn the U.S., I often see references to “urban wineries” or “city wineries,” and I’ve heard stories of everything from wineries in basements of 500-square foot apartments to a commercial vineyard on the roof of a brownstone. These models are admirable, creative, and innovative, but I am yet to find a hectare of space in New York City dedicated exclusively to vines. Perhaps one day.Clos Montmartre Paris Wine Vineyard

If you’re in Paris and looking for a fun wine adventure, I suggest stopping by Clos Montmartre for a view. You can find it on the corner of Rue des Saules and Rue Saint-Vincent. Depending on the route you take, it will put your map reading skills to the test (no cheating with Google maps). 

For more information, see Paris’s Secret Vineyard.

Images property of Lindsey A. Zahn.

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TTB is accepting comments through August 31, 2015 on a proposed American Viticultural Area (“AVA”) called “Champlain Valley of New York,” as per a proposed rule in the Federal Register on June 30, 2015. The proposed AVA is as follows:

  • The petition proposing the new AVA was sent to TTB by Colin Read, owner of North Star Vineyard, on behalf of the Lake Champlain Grape Growers Association. The proposed AVA of Champlain Valley of New York is “a long, narrow valley on the western shore of Lake Champlain and is approximately 82 miles long and approximately 20 miles wide at its widest point” and incorporates about 500 square miles, six bonded wineries, and eleven commercial vineyards and covers a total of 15.47 acres. Docket No. TTB-2015-0010-0001.
  • The petition noted that the AVA’s distinguishing features are its short growing season (“conducive for growing cold-hardy North American hybrid varieties of grapes . . . but not Vitis vinifera“) and included data, indicating a later-last frost date and an earlier first-frost date, to support such claim. Id. However, as highlighted by TTB, the petition did not include a discussion on the viticultural significance of the proposed AVA’s precipitation, topography, soils, etc., thus TTB does not consider such features to be distinguishing features of the proposed AVA. 
  • The name “Champlain Valley of New York” comes from Lake Champlain, which is found on the border of upstate New York as well as Vermont and parts of Quebec. TTB noted that because “Champlain Valley” applies to both Vermont and Canada, the proposed AVA name of “Champlain Valley of New York” is more accurate for this particular region. Indeed, several prior label approvals for wines indicate that some wineries in both New York State and Vermont use “Champlain Valley” or “Lake Champlain Valley” to describe the origin of their grapes. See, e.g., La Garagista Red Table Wine and Vesco Ridge Vineyards White Table Wine. (In the proposed rule, TTB notes that “Champlain Valley” by itself should not have viticultural significance, thus specifying only the full name “Champlain Valley of New York” would be recognized as viticulturally significant.)

To read TTB’s press release, see Proposed Establishment of the “Champlain Valley of New York” Viticultural Area.

For more information on wine or alcohol law, AVAs, or TTB matters, please contact Lindsey Zahn.

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is for general information purposes only, is not intended to constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship results. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice.

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CLE International Wine Beer Spirits Law, Louisville Kentucky 2015 ConferenceCLE International will host its annual wine, beer, and spirits law conference in Louisville, Kentucky this September 17th and 18th. This year is the program’s 20th anniversary of the wine, beer, and spirits conference and, from its lineup, it promises to have some interesting topics in beverage law. Topics include the following:

  • TTB Update
  • Evaluating Labeling and Marketing Programs: False Advertising, Class Actions & a Holistic Approach to Marketing Compliance
  • The Evolution of Brown Spirits: Legal and Industry Perspectives; Demystifying the Federal Label Rules for Spirits and Other Important Issues
  • Arsenic in Wine? Oh, My!: A Discussion of the Pending Litigation
  • Legal and Building Code Requirements: Issues Related to the Premises of Various Facilities
  • State Regulators Panel: Perspectives from Around the Country
  • Appellations: The Next Frontier
  • Cider: Complex Legal Issues
  • Producer Wholesaling and Retailing: Perspectives
  • Trademark Issues: In the Alcohol Industry

and several others.

The conference will take place at the Seelbach Hilton Hotel in Louisville and the brochure mentions that up to 14 hours of MCLE credits can be obtained (including one hour of ethics). Further, the conference falls on the same dates as the renowned Kentucky Bourbon Festival.

I attended last year’s conference and it was a great experience. This year’s lineup promises what sound like exceptionally interesting and current industry topics, as well as some great speakers.

For more information or to register, see CLE International website’s 20th Anniversary National Conference Wine Beer & Spirits Law.

Image property of CLE International.

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is for general information purposes only, is not intended to constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship results. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice.

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