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Duckhorn Wine Co. Files a Complaint Against Duck Walk Vineyards Alleging Consumer Confusion on Wine Labels

I read the article outlining the complaint filed by Duckhorn Wine Co. of St. Helena against Duck Walk Vineyards, and I feel particularly compelled to blog about the complaint by means of both legal interest and personal significance. (I spent some of my childhood summers on the eastern end of Long Island, and I am somewhat familiar with Duck Walk Vineyards, but I am especially interested in the area of intellectual property.) According to Duckhorn asks N.Y. Winery to Modify Label and Sales, Duckhorn Wine Co. filed a complaint against Duck Walk Vineyards on January 15, 2013 in Napa County Superior Court. The complaint alleges breach of contract (specifically relating to trademark), which required Duck Walk Vineyard to mention its geographical indication on the front of its labels. Furthermore, the complaint alleges the failure of Duck Walk Vineyards to provide the location of the vineyard on its wine labels lead to consumer confusion. Duckhorn demands Duck Walk Vineyards alter its labels and halt sales of 50% of its wines outside of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Id. 

Duckhorn’s lawyer stated that Duck Walk Vineyards did not follow a 2003 court settlement in which Duck Walk agreed to several constraints, including placing the vineyard’s place of origin on the front label. “Under the settlement, Duck Walk also agreed not to produce and/or bottle more than 84,000 gallons of wine with the word ‘Duck’ or pictures of ducks on the label unless they’re part of the corporate name ‘Duck Walk Vineyards Inc.'” See Duckhorn asks N.Y. Winery to Modify Label and Sales. The lawyers for Duck Walk argue that Duckhorn does not own the word “Duck.”

It is true that Duckhorn and Duck Walk Vineyards both sell wine in the United States, at especially different price points, but to the extent that their products are “similar” to cause even remote disorientation among consumers is a rather weighty argument. A quick search of the TTB COLA database, restricting results to wine and fortified wine labels, indicates that there are over 400 labels since February of 2007 that use the word “DUCK” on either the fanciful name or brand name of the label. (Editor’s note: the aforementioned results are of labels that, to a greater percentage, are from Duckhorn Vineyards; additionally, not all labels from other vineyards with the word “DUCK” also include images of a duck or ducks on the label, but most of the labels do.) 

Finally, the word “DUCK” is what trademark attorneys would say is a generic term—meaning, the word “DUCK” is of common use (a word one would find in a dictionary). And, because I think it is necessary, a closer look at some of the labels at issue: a Duckhorn label and a Duck Walk label. To what extent do these labels look like they originated from the same producer? And some other vineyards that use the term “DUCK” on their labels, just to confirm the presence of “DUCK” on multiple labels: Duck PondButterducks, and Diving Duck. To what degree do any of these labels promote consumer confusion?

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.

Lindsey A. Zahn


Lindsey is the founder and author of On Reserve: A Wine Law Blog. She is an alcohol beverage and food attorney and is admitted to the New York State Bar.

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Albert February 5, 2013, 9:49 AM

    This new brouhaha reminds me of the old “Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars” vs. “Stags’ Leap Winery” debate. At least in the prior legal battle, the trademarks were very similar and the wines came from the same area in Napa, so there was much greater chance of consumer confusion.

    Here, however, no self-respecting Californian would confuse Duckhorn–for decades, one of the great Napa wineries–with any other label. Nor would anyone with a passing familiarity with wine mistake Duckhorn with Duck Walk. The confusion, if any, would only arise among those customers new to wine, non-Californians, or international customers.

    That having been said, Duck Walk *did* breach a settlement agreement. My guess is that Duck Walk wants to expand their distribution beyond whatever limits to which they had previously agreed, and were calling Duckhorn’s bluff by deliberately breaching the agreement. If so, this ploy seems like a dangerous game…

  • Lindsey A. Zahn Lindsey A. Zahn February 5, 2013, 10:03 AM

    Thanks, Albert. I agree with what you said. And you are correct: there is still a breach of a settlement agreement. I should have highlighted that more, but I found the trademark issue to be of particular interest.

  • David Rossi February 6, 2013, 9:07 AM

    I also think that this shows a bigger issue of the current trademark process being geographically based. These are both US companies so it is a cleaner discussion than international trademarking, but now that the internet is getting brands out there globally there starts to be confusion even if sales areas do not overlap.

    If Duckwalk get’s a 72 point score from a magazine and it goes online there is a likelihood of confusion that would harm Duckhorn. Speaking from experience, we have the trademark for Fulcrum in the US and we make high end Pinot Noirs with a great reputation. Now there is and Australian company that started using the Fulcrum brand(after we had our US nark) for a lower quality product. They don’t ship to the US so I have no claim. However you can Google Fulcrum (Google is a registered trademark of the Google corporation and may not be used without the the expressed written consent of Google Corp), and you will see this product pop up.

    Likelyhood of confusion?absolutely. Anything do about it?no.

    I think we have to start thinking differently about confusion without regards to borders and boundaries. Easier said than done I know, but I think Duckhorn has a great case.

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