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Earlier this year, On Reserve reported about the declaratory judgment suit launched against against Pernod Ricard’s Irish Distillers Limited, owner of the renowned Jameson Irish Whiskey, by Napa Valley-based vineyard Madison Vineyard Holdings, LLC, the owner of Jamieson RanchSee Jamieson Vineyards Takes On Pernod Ricard’s Irish Distillers. The complaint was filed in response to a cease and desist letter originally sent by Irish Distillers to Madison Vineyard Holdings, which asserted that the name “Jamieson” was confusingly similar to “Jameson” and was “likely to cause consumer confusion” or allow customers to think the mark “Jamieson” originated from, was endorsed by, or or authorized by Irish Distillers. The legal battle continued through the summer, including a counterclaim on behalf of the distiller. See The Trademark Battle of Jamieson Ranch Vineyards and Pernod’s Irish Distillers.

This last week, Wines & Vines reported that Jamieson Ranch Vineyards and the makers of Jameson Irish Whiskey settled and that Jamieson Ranch Vineyards would continue to use the mark “Jamieson” on its wines. See Jamieson Ranch Vineyards Keeps Disputed Name. According to Wines & Vines, the president of Jamieson Ranch Vineyards assured Irish Distillers that Jamieson Ranch Vineyards was in the market to produce wine—and not spirits. Id. “Jamieson Ranch” is the fourth name the property in Napa has had since 2009.

The remaining details of the settlement are unknown as of present, but one can only begin to imagine the settlement’s course and structure. This win for Jamieson Ranch Vineyards against a subsidiary of global entity Pernod Ricard is certainly an achievement. But, of course, there are many reasons why Irish Distillers may have opted to settle despite dispatching a cease and desist letter. For any company, a trademark infringement lawsuit can be timely, costly, and complicated, regardless of the size of the business. Still, it is possible that the assurance Jamieson Ranch Vineyards would not branch out into the spirits business may have been enough to meet the underlying goals of Irish Distillers.

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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Coming Soon to a Menu Near You: Alcohol Calorie Counts

Last week, the FDA published a final rule in the Federal Register that mandates calorie and nutrition information be listed on menus and menu boards to certain restaurants and retail food establishments. The requirements, which go into effect on December 1, 2015, extend to restaurants and retail food establishments that are part of a chain of 20 or more locations (where location means a fixed position or site) that do business under the same name and offer for sale substantially the same menu items. Such establishments are required to include calorie and nutrition information for standard menu items (which FDA defined to mean a restaurant-type food that is commonly included on a menu or menu board food or frequently offered as food on display and self-service food). Restaurants and retail establishments that do not otherwise fall under the requirements of this new rule may elect to become subject to these rules by registering with the FDA every other year. The final rule is the Agency’s attempt to combat the country’s obesity epidemic by confronting consumers with actual calorie counts on meals or food consumed outside of the house.

What has come as a surprise to many is that the new rule actually includes alcohol beverages, which were not included in the proposed rule. In other words, a food establishment falling within the new rule would be required to declare calorie count of an alcohol beverage on its menu (with some exceptions). For restaurateurs whose revenues may depend on or thrive off of alcohol sales, declaring alcohol calorie counts may come as a particularly unpleasant surprise.

While one comment asserted that

[E]stablishing menu labeling requirements for alcoholic beverages could lead to inconsistencies with TTB requirements. One comment pointed out that TTB has rulemaking underway for ‘‘serving facts’’ on alcoholic beverage labels and asserted that, if FDA establishes menu labeling requirements for alcoholic beverages, there could be inconsistencies between nutrition information on labels and menus

and while FDA countered that

[T]he nutrition labeling requirements finalized here do not apply to and have no effect on the labels of alcoholic beverage containers. In addition, the new requirements apply to covered establishments, not to alcoholic beverage manufacturers. In contrast, TTB’s ‘‘Serving Facts’’ rulemaking would establish new requirements for disclosures on alcoholic beverage labels and would apply to alcoholic beverage bottlers and importers

it is curious to consider how, in practice, the disclosure of an alcohol beverage’s calories or nutritional information may translate. 79 Fed. Reg. 71156  (Dec. 1, 2014). Currently, TTB does not require calorie nor nutritional disclosure on the labels of alcohol beverage products falling within its jurisdiction (with few exceptions, such as if the product makes a calorie or carbohydrate claim or statement). And whereas the FDA is not requiring a TTB-regulated manufacturer or importer change its labels, the FDA is asking retail establishments, such as restaurants, that sell such alcohol beverage products to provide information on the product’s calorie count and nutrition that is not currently available on most alcohol labels. The agency indicates, in its response to the comments for the final rule, that a covered establishment will have “significant flexibility in choosing a reasonable basis for their nutrient content disclosures, which can include a database such as the USDA’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.” Id. Perhaps some of this is foreshadowing what is to develop on TTB’s end with respect to serving facts.

Foods that the final rules specifically excludes from the rule’s nutrition and calorie requirement include the following:

  • Foods that are not standard menu items, such as condiments, daily specials, and temporary menu items;
  • Food that is part of a customary market test;
  • Self-service food;
  • Food on display that is available for sale for less than 60 days per calendar year or fewer than 90 consecutive days (in order to test consumer acceptance); and
  • Alcohol beverages that are food no display and not self-service food (such as bottles behind the bar used to prepare mixed drinks).

For more information on wine or alcohol law, labeling, or FDA 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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On Reserve Author Quoted in The Wall Street Journal

 On Reserve Author Quoted in The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article detailing the New York State Liquor Authority (“NYSLA”) and Empire Wine dispute on retailer direct shipment to consumers. The retailer originally filed suit against the NYSLA in September, shortly after the Authority issued a letter to Empire stating the retailer violated a state regulation that allows the NYSLA to revoke, cancel, or suspend a liquor license due to “improper conduct” of the licensee. In November, Empire’s case was dismissed by a New York State Supreme Court, and the retailer was instructed to exhaust its administrative remedies before commencing action in court. Empire is currently scheduled to appear before the Authority on January 23rd for a revocation hearing. 

To read the WSJ article, please visit Interstate Shipping Flap Rattles N.Y. Wine Retailers.

Photograph snippet property of The Wall Street Journal.

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Justice Doris Ling-Cohan, a Manhattan judge, reversed the New York State Liquor Authority’s (“NYSLA”) decision to revoke the license of a Long Island farm winery. The judge dismissed three charges brought on behalf of the NYSLA against Vineyard 48, a Southold, Long Island-based farm winery. Justice Ling-Cohan noted that the revocation, along with the three charges brought on behalf of the NYSLA, “shocked the court’s sense of justice.” See N.Y. Winery Defeats Bid to Have License Revoked.

The NYSLA argued that Vineyard 48 violated its farm winery license by “permitting a dance party type atmosphere.” Id. Neighbors of the winery alleged that the owner “turned the place into a rock concert venue, complete with violent, lewd and drunken behavior.” Id. At a board meeting to adopt the revocation recommendation of the administrative law judge, the chairman of the NYSLA voted to revoke the license, noting, “I think I know what a wine tasting is,” and that Vineyard 48′s DJ, dancing, and nightclub atmosphere did not fit such definition.

Despite the SLA’s findings, the court in Joseph Paul Winery v. New York State Liquor Authority, 101755/2013, held the NYSLA ignored its own due process protections as well as the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) by allowing complainants to testify before the NYSLA’s governing board without giving prior notice to Vineyard 48. Further, the witnesses were not sworn in, nor was Vineyard 48 granted the opportunity to cross examine the witnesses. Justice Ling-Cohan noted that the NYSLA’s allowance of unsworn testimony outside the record violated the winery’s due process rights. 

Further, the court noted that, despite the APA’s requirement that the NYSLA issue regulations defining permissible activities by farm wineries, none had been adopted by the NYSLA since 1974 (the year the Farm Winery Act was originally passed). In other words, the statute as written permits wine tastings but does not define the term or prescribe any requirements other than the proprietor be personally present and only New York State-produced wines can be poured. The judge noted that the permissible activities were extremely broad. Currently, the statute is written such that a farm winery may “engage in any business on the licensed premises subject to such rules and regulations as the NYSLA may prescribe.” Id. The judge particularly noted that, while the NYSLA’s chairman may “know what a wine tasting is . . .  unless petitioner and the wine-making community are also mind readers, his personal and subjective opinion as to how to conduct wine tastings” was immaterial in the absence of any duly enacted regulations on behalf of the NYSLA. Id. As a result, the court held that the charges be dismissed as void for vagueness.  

The court said that “the extreme penalty of revocation, in the absence of any prior prosecutions of violations or notice of objectionable conduct” was unwarranted for the three remaining charges. Instead, the court reasoned, if the NYSLA were to issue a penalty, the penalty needed to be lesser than revocation.

This is an interesting result, especially given the upcoming license revocation hearing scheduled for Empire Wine. In September, Empire brought suit against the NYSLA in a New York court, which dismissed the suit in November. While the suit against the NYSLA was not dismissed on the merits, Empire was instructed to exhaust administrative remedies first. A dismissal of this type does not preclude the retailer from bringing a suit against the NYSLA once administrative remedies are exhausted, and Empire contends that the company is prepared to fight the NYSLA going forward. If, after administrative remedies are exhausted, Empire brings suit agains the NYSLA again, it is curious how a court might interpret the statute upon which the NYSLA currently relies to support its argument in favor of jurisdiction over out-of-state shipments of wine by a New York licensed retailer. In the above case, the court dismissed the NYSLA’s charges as void for vagueness, considering the absence of duly enacted regulations on behalf of the NYSLA. In the Empire case, the retailer argues that the statute at issue is also vague—but this time, in the context of out-of-state wine shipments and “improper conduct” on behalf of a licensee or permittee. For more information on the Empire Wine lawsuit against the NYSLA, please see Retailer Empire Wine Sues New York State Liquor Authority: Direct Shipping and Court Dismisses Empire’s Lawsuit Against NYSLA.

Update: After the publication of this article, the revocation hearing for Empire Wine was rescheduled from December 3rd to January 23rd. This is the second time the hearing has been delayed (the original hearing was scheduled for October 23rd). Read more at Empire Wine Hearing Delayed After FOIL Appeal.

For more information on New York State wine or alcohol law, or establishing a winery, brewery, or distillery in New York, 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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On Reserve Wine Law Blog Top 100 Blawgs American Bar Association On Reserve Named Top 100 Blawgs by American Bar Association JournalIt is truly an honor to share that On Reserve was named one of the top 100 legal blogs or “blawgs” of 2014 by the American Bar Association Journal (“ABA”). This nomination is incredibly exciting for On Reserve, which was just added to the ABA’s blog directory this last year. From the ABA directly:

No, we don’t just go through the 4,000-plus blogs in our directory and consult a Magic 8 Ball to decide what to add or scratch off our list. We remember the blogs that have tipped us off to breaking news and the bloggers who have compelled us to write about their innovative ideas.

And over the summer, we cue readers—and other bloggers—to write in and let us know about their favorites: When we can see their love for a blog is real and not a marketing hustle, it catches our attention.

If you appreciate the dedication to a “niche” practice, please take some time and vote for On Reserve on ABA’s Blawg Top 100 site. On Reserve is listed under the “niche” category.

A significant thank you to all of those who continue to make the wine world (and the wine law world) stimulating and worth writing about. It is a true honor to not only be part of but document the legal overtones of the wine industry. I am delighted to continue recording the legal advancements and strifes to come.

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Court Dismisses Empire’s Lawsuit Against NYSLA

A New York State Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit launched by Empire Wine against the New York State Liquor Authority (“NYSLA”). In an 11-page ruling, Justice George Ceresia rejected Empire’s complaint that the statute upon which the NYSLA is relying is excessively vague, and denied Empire’s request for a preliminary injunction preventing the NYSLA from pursuing action. Judge Ceresia indicated that, “On its face, the Court is of the view that [NYSLA] possesses abundant statutory authority to commence and maintain a license revocation proceeding.”

The retailer originally filed suit against the NYSLA in September, shortly after the agency issued a letter to Empire stating the retailer violated a state regulation that allows the NYSLA to revoke, cancel, or suspend a liquor license due to “improper conduct” of the licensee. See Retailer Empire Wine Sues New York State Liquor Authority: Direct Shipping. In its letter, the NYSLA cited Empire for shipping wine directly to consumers in states that bar direct shipment of wine to consumers or require out-of-state retailers to obtain a license. In the suit filed against the NYSLA, Empire argued that New York had no jurisdiction over out-of-state wine sales, the charges brought against Empire violated the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, and that 9 NYCRR 53.1(n) was unconstitutionally vague because the regulation does not mention out-of-state shipping and does not provide licensees notice of what “improper conduct” the regulation governs. Additionally, Empire alleged that NYSLA is is “precluded from asserting jurisdiction and authority over the shipment of alcoholic beverages destined for distribution to and consumption by consumers outside the State of New York, even when the shipment originates in New York.” See Empire Wine & Spirits LLC v. New York State Liquor Authority. Effectively, Empire argued that the Constitution prescribes the federal government—and not individual states or their agencies—with the authority to regulate interstate commerce.

The court did not dismiss Empire’s case on the merits, and instead instructed the retailer to exhaust administrative remedies before commencing action in court. It is not unusual for a court to request that administrative remedies be exhausted, and a demand for such does not bar Empire from bringing suit should the retailer still be dissatisfied after its revocation hearing. A license revocation hearing before the NYSLA is scheduled for December 3rd.  According to outside sources, Empire seems determined to pursue suit agains the NYSLA and continue to ship wine directly to out-of-state consumers. See Empire Wine ‘Will Continue to Fight’ Liquor Authority

As more and more states open their borders to direct shipping of wine by wineries, the pathway for retailers remains less defined. New York is one of many states that currently prohibit retailers from directly shipping wine to consumers. The NYSLA’s chairman noted that the Authority will be pursuing similar cases against each retailer who also shipped wine directly to consumers in the 37 states that currently prohibit such (on behalf of retailers). Id. It seems that the battle may have only started for retailers.

For more information on New York State wine or alcohol law, or establishing a winery, brewery, or distillery in New York, 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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In a recent TTAB decision, the Board found that Arcata was not primarily geographically deceptively misdescriptive of wine. The Applicant, D’Andrea Family Limited Partnership, sought to register the mark ARCATA in standard character form for “Wine” in International Class 33. In re D’Andrea Family Limited Partnership, Serial No. 85834204 (Oct. 15, 2014) [not precedential]. Originally, the Examining Attorney refused registration of the mark under the Trademark Act § 2(e)(3), 15 U.S.C. § 1052(e)(3), on that ground that the mark was primarily geographically deceptively misdescriptive of wine. Applicant filed a request for reconsideration, which the Examining Attorney denied, and a notice of appeal.

A mark that is primarily geographically deceptively misdescriptive is not registrable as per § 2(e)(3) of the Trademark Act. A mark is considered to be primarily geographically deceptively misdescriptive if:

  1. The primary significance of the mark is a generally known geographic location;
  2. The consuming public is likely to believe that the place identified by the mark indicates the origin of the goods bearing the mark, when in fact the goods do not come from that place; and
  3. The misrepresentation would be a material factor in a consumer’s decision to purchase the goods.

In re Miracle Tuesday LLC, 695 F.3d 1339, 104 USPQ2d 1330, 1332 (Fed. Cir. 2012); In re California Innovations, Inc., 329 F.3d 1334, 66 USPQ2d 1853 (Fed. Cir. 2003).

The Board found that the primary significance of ARCATA was that of a generally known geographic location (i.e., in northern California) “neither obscure nor remote”; and, while the Applicant admitted that Arcata is a geographical location within California, its wine was not produced within Arcata. In re D’Andrea Family Limited Partnership at 4. As such, the remaining questions on point were: (1) whether consumers would believe that Applicant’s wine originated from Arcata (goods/place association), and (2) whether this incorrect impression would be a material factor in consumer’s decision to purchase the goods. Id. (emphasis added).

Before examining the evidence at hand, the Board clarified the finding of a goods/place association: An actual goods/place association is not required to be established by the PTO; instead, a reasonable predicate must exist for the PTO’s conclusion that “‘the public would be likely to make the particular goods/place association on which it relies.’” Id. (citing 104 USPQ2d at 1333 (quoting In re Pacer Technology, 338 F.3d 1348, 67 USPQ2d 1629, 1631 (Fed. Cir. 2003) and In re Loew’s Theatres, Inc., 769 F. 2d 764, 226 USPQ 865, 868 (Fed. Cir 1985))). This is a significantly lower threshold. Further, the Board noted that finding a goods/place association often involves “little more” than proving a consumer identifies the place as the known source of the product. Id. at 5 (citing In re Les Halles de Paris J.V., 334 F.3d 1371, 1374 [67 USPQ2d 1539, 1541] (Fed. Cir. 2003)). This resolution is important, as the bar for determining whether a goods/place association exists is more easily met as opposed to if the bar were “an actual” goods/place association.

The Examining Attorney produced evidence of three wineries with addresses in Arcata, California (one of which had a tasting room in Arcata). In determining whether a goods/place association existed, the Board noted that it was not necessary to establish if a place was well known for the foods at issue (i.e., if Arcata was well known for wine), but it was sufficient to show only a reasonable basis to conclude that the public is likely to believe the mark at issue identifies the place of origin of the goods. Id. As a result, the Board determined that the evidence indicating Arcata is the site of several wineries was sufficient to meet the reasonable basis requirement and, thus, there was a requisite goods/place association (i.e., that a customer who saw ARCATA, the mark at issue, would likely believe the wine originated from Arcata, California).

After establishing the goods/place association, the Board moved onto the next issue: materiality, or whether a consumer’s misimpression would be a material factor in the consumer’s decision to purchase the goods. The Board noted, to establish materiality, a substantial number of “relevant” consumers must be likely to be deceived by the mark’s misrepresentation of a goods/place association (i.e., enough to lead the consumer to purchase the product). Id. at 6. Unlike the threshold in the goods/place association, the materiality test focuses on the likelihood of actually misleading the public (i.e., because the finding of a geographically deceptive misdescriptive mark precludes the mark from registration). Id. 

In this particular appeal, the Board examined whether the Examining Attorney demonstrated that Arcata is “noted for” wine; that wine is a “principal product” of Arcata; that wine is a product “traditionally originating” in Arcata; or that a substantial portion of customers for wine “would be materially influenced in the decision to purchase wine by a misrepresentation that the goods originate in Arcata.” Id. at 7. To determine if the Examining Attorney met this threshold, the Board reviewed various entries for Arcata, Humboldt County, and Wine Country (California) from sources like Wikipedia and The Columbia Gazetteer. The references indicated a limited, if any, wine presence or association with the geographical location of Arcata. Even though the Examining Attorney argued that Humboldt County wines are distinctive and such characteristics of Humboldt County wines can be attributed to wines from Arcata (since Arcata is located within Humboldt County), the Board determined that the evidence submitted did not support the Examining Attorney’s contention. Specifically, the Board reasoned that evidence submitted showed that the wineries located within Arcata obtained their grapes from other regions (e.g., Napa Valley and Sonoma County), and indicated that Arcata was not suitable for grape growing. Id. at 11. Further, the Board noted that Humboldt County is “a very large area that is not particularly noted for its wines.” Id. at 12. As a result, the Board determined the record did not indicate customers would be mislead to purchase a wine because such was made from grapes grown in Arcata, thus not meeting the burden for for establishing materiality. The Board refused any determination on its behalf as to whether the name “Humboldt” would induce consumers to purchase wine, but instead maintained that the fact ARCATA is present within Humboldt County is insufficient to induce a consumer to purchase wine. Thus, the Board reversed the Examining Attorney’s refusal to register the mark ARCATA.

Based on the Board’s determination in the above appeal, it seems only likely that the Applicant will seek registration of ARCATA. Arcata is not, as the Board noted in its decision, an appellation of origin nor an American Viticultural Area (at least, not at this point in time). The above story would have likely unfolded quite differently had an appellation of origin or American Viticultural Area been involved. Despite Arcata’s current status, it is conceivable that Arcata could become an American Viticultural Area should the area meet the requirements established in 27 CFR Part 9 for petitioning to establish a new American Viticultural Area. While the current characteristics of Arcata may not meet TTB’s requirements for a new American Viticultural Area, in theory, it seems possible that Arcata could, in time, change enough so to comply with 27 CFR Part 9, estbalishing itself as an American Viticultural Area. At that point, how would a previously registered mark (i.e., such as ARCATA) come into play, especially given the facts outlined above (i.e., that the wine bearing the mark ARCATA was not produced in nor from grapes grown in Arcata)? I am sure this is a question that has been visited in the past, but I still find it rather curious how such a scenario would carry itself out.

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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On November 13, 2014, Governor Cuomo signed the Craft New York Act, a craft beverage law that cuts burdensome restrictions and eases marketing requirements for craft beverage producers. Additionally, to further develop New York’s growing craft beverage industry, Governor Cuomo also launched the Craft Beverage Grant program, which creates a $2 million Craft Beverage Marketing and Promotion Grant Program and a $1 million Craft Beverage Industry Tourism Promotion Grant. The new law and grant program are part of a promise made on behalf of the Governor at New York’s second Wine, Beer, Spirits & Cider Summit to further support and provide resources for the state’s growing craft beverage industry. Specifically, the Governor acknowledged:

New York produces some of the best wine, beer, spirits and cider in the world—an industry which not only creates jobs but supports farmers and brings in tourism dollars across every corner of the state. This new law builds upon this administration’s ongoing efforts to promote this industry by cutting red tape, reducing burdensome regulations and removing artificial barriers that stifled growth. New York is truly open for business, and I thank my partners in the legislature for their hard work in making this a success for all of our craft beverage businesses.

The Craft New York Act will take effect thirty days after November 13th. The new law will provide New York craft beverage producers with a significant number of benefits, including the following:

  • Producers can conduct tastings and serve “by the bottle” and “by the glass;”
  • Farm distilleries will be permitted to increase the number of retail outlets where they can sell and offer samples of their products;
  • Reducing the food requirement that must be met by manufacturers when providing tastings or consumptions on the premises;
  • Allowing farm distilleries to obtain a permit to operate a branch office, thus eliminating the need for a separate license for the branch office; and
  • Reducing costs for small manufacturers by increasing the production cap and permitting the production of more product without increased fees.

The Craft Beverage Marketing and Promotion Grant Program were instituted to enhance the profile, awareness, and sales of New York’s craft beverage industry by providing funds for marketing and promoting New York State craft beverages. As much as $500,000 can be awarded to eligible not-for-profit organizations to assist in covering the costs related to marketing the craft beverage industry, including:

  • The purchase of recognized media advertising;
  • Production costs of print collateral and audio/visual;
  • Industry related tours, marketing materials; and
  • Website design, development, and updates.

The State’s Craft Beverage Industry Tourism Promotion Grant will help grow tourism across New York State by promoting destinations, attractions, and special events explicitly related to the craft beverage industry. Working capital funding of up to $250,000 can be awarded by Empire State Development for marketing-based tourism projects intended to create or retain jobs, increase tourism in the craft beverage industry and attract visitors to New York State.

New York State’s craft beverage industry is growing dramatically and, with the help of legislative and funding initiatives like the above, shows no sign of stopping. If you are thinking about getting involved on the production side—whether as a distiller, brewer, or vintner—there truly is no better time than the present. The reductions in regulatory hurdles, as well as the reduced fees for craft or farm licenses, provide a great opportunity for smaller or startup businesses in the beer, wine, or spirits industry.

For more information on New York State wine or alcohol law, or establishing a winery, brewery, or distillery in New York, 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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The Term “Blends” Is Merely Descriptive of Wine

Ren Acquisition, Inc. (“Applicant”) sought registration on the Principal Register of the marks BLENDS and BLENDS, INC in standard characters for the marketing, advertising, and promotion of the sale of wine in International Class 35. In re Ren Acquisition, Inc., Serial Nos. 85787527 and 85787531 (October 3, 2014). Applicant disclaimed the use of the term, “Inc.” in its application for BLENDS, INC. The Examining Attorney refused to register either mark under Section 2(e)(1) of the Trademark Act of 1945, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(e)(1) on the grounds that both BLENDS and BLENDS, INC. were merely descriptive of marketing, advertising, and promoting the sale of wine since the term “Blends” refers to a wine composed to two or more grape varieties. Id. at 2. Therefore, the Attorney reasoned, the mark BLENDS was merely descriptive of the product being marketed, advertised, and promoted. Id. 

Blends Merely Descriptive Wine Trademark USPTO wine law The Term Blends Is Merely Descriptive of WineApplicant appealed and requested reconsideration of a previously refused trademark application. After the Examining Attorney denied the request for reconsideration, the appeal resumed. The Board affirmed the decision of the Examining Attorney and refused registration of the mark.

On appeal, the Board noted that the question was not whether an individual presented only with the mark “could guess the services listed in the identification of services.” Id. Instead, the question was whether an individual who knows what the services are will understand the mark to convey information about the services. Id. at 3. As such, the Board determined how relevant customers for wine marketing, advertising, and promoting would perceive the term “Blends.”

In determining whether a mark is merely descriptive, it is enough that the term describes one significant function, attribute, or property of a service in order for the term to be considered merely descriptive. As the Board noted in its opinion, “it is not necessary that a term describe all of the purposes, functions, characteristics, or features of a service to be considered merely descriptive.” Id. If the mark is descriptive of even just one identified item, the whole class of goods may be refused registration.

Applicant argued that the term, “Blends” was not descriptive of marketing, selling, and promoting wines. Specifically:

Simply, the Examiner has confused “services” and “goods.” Applicant’s subject application is neither requesting a mark specifically for wine nor is the mark for retail services selling wine. Each and every piece of evidence offered by the Examiner is specifically for wine or the retail sale of wine by either a winery or a retail store selling wine. . . . The significant function, purpose, feature, and/or characteristic of the mark is to “market, advertise, and promote.” Marketing, advertising, and promoting the “sale” of wine is considerably different than the act of selling wine or producing wine. Id. at 4. 

The evidence submitted in support of the descriptive nature of “Blends” with respect to wine included: (1) Wine Enthusiast Magazine Glossary of Wine Terms; (2) Overview of wine blends, vintage wine blends, and nonvintage wine blends from Lovetoknow Wine website; (3) An article from Huffington Post Taste; (4) An advertisement from winetasting.com for “Red Wine Blends;” (5) examples of wine labels containing the term “Blend;” and (6) many others.

Applicant argued that when the term, “Blends” is used in connection with marketing, advertising, or promoting, the term can refer to many things—not just wine. Irrespective, the Board responded that whether a term is merely descriptive is not considered in the abstract, but instead in relation to the services at issue (i.e., as here, the marketing, advertising, and promoting of wine). Id. at 9. Additionally, the Board noted that the fact the term “Blends” may have different meanings in different contexts is not controlling. Id. at 10.

The Board found that the term, “Blends” described the product which Applicant markets, advertises, or promotes. As such, the Board determined the term should “remain available to any company rendering these services.” Id. at 9.

While this seems to be another fair and, perhaps, obvious decision on behalf of the Board, it is an important one nonetheless. Many wine labels contain the term “Blend,” “Blends,” “Blending,” or similar. In fact, after a cursory search of the LabelVision database, I discovered over 26,000 wine labels containing the term “Blend” since the early 1990s. Well over 34,000 wine labels contain the term “Blend,” “Blends,” or “Blending.” This is quite notable, and is further indication that “Blends” is merely descriptive for International Class 35. If the Board (or the Examining Attorney) granted registration for the mark, one can only imagine how troublesome this could be for the wine industry.

Image property of Blends, Inc.

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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The Medicine of Contraband Wine: Donate to Hospitals

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Arthur Goldman, a Pennsylvania attorney recently accused of selling wine in Pennsylvania without a license. See Pennsylvania Attorney’s Wine Collection Seized and May be Destroyed by Government. The story goes that Mr. Goldman privately procured high-end wines for friends and colleagues, selling the wine directly to multiple parties through his personal cellar as opposed to shipping the wine through Pennsylvania’s state-controlled liquor stores. (For the full original story from January, see U.S. Lawyer Arrested in Undercover Fine Wine Sting.) Mr. Goldman maintained a private wine cellar said to be valued around $250,000, which Pennsylvania considers to be “contraband” and deserving of seizure and destruction under the state’s law.

Multiple sources have since reported that Mr. Goldman’s collection of 2,447 bottles of what are said to be “rare, fine, and very expensive” wines and, while the usual remedy is to destroy contract band liquor, there appears to be an aberration in the state’s law as per the below:

Confiscated liquor for hospitals. Hospitals desirous of obtaining confiscated liquor offered by Federal authorities or granted to them by the courts of the Commonwealth shall make written application to the Board for permission to import the liquor if located outside of this Commonwealth. 40 Pa. Code § 9.47.

Attention Pennsylvania Hospitals: Speak Now or Lose Out on 2,447 Bottles of Free Wines.

This is yet another example of antiquated liquor laws in a modern society. Putting aside all eccentricities of this particular provision, providing Mr. Goldman’s collection to hospitals seems to be the only option excluding destruction. However, providing fine wine to hospitals seems a bit extreme and, admittedly, unseemly—especially when, as many followers of the above case argue, many of the wines in Mr. Goldman’s collection could be sold at auction. It is clear that a provision like the above is in need of repeal or complete revision and, while it seems fitting that § 9.47 was drafted in the immediate aftermath of Prohibition, the section was actually adopted in 1952 and amended several times thereafter. 40 Pa. Code § 9.47. Unfortunately for Mr. Goldman and fellow wine aficionados, it seems that the repercussions of this quirk in the law will be felt far long before the law can (or will) be amended. 

For more information on wine or alcohol law, direct shipping, or licensing, 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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