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Commentary by Carl Kanowsky, Esq.
| Friday, Nov 15, 2013
Carl Kanowsky, Esq.

Carl Kanowsky, Esq.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Ah, that Shakespeare, what a romantic. In this quote from “Romeo and Juliet,” Juliet is trying to convince Romeo not to let his last name control his destiny. We know how that worked out.

Breaking news would seem to indicate the French weren’t swayed by Juliet’s pleadings, either.

For those wine lovers among us, we know that France, Spain and Portugal have successfully lobbied for the concept that certain trade names should apply only to products from that country.

For instance, only sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France can be called champagne. Even makers of sparkling wine from other areas of France can’t call their wines champagne. The French rightfully take great pride in something that has a tradition that spans centuries.

The Portuguese have similar protection for their delicious dessert wine called port. In my own experience, the controls over countries calling their wines a port don’t seem quite as effective, but the laws do exist. Spain also has claimed trade name protection for its fortified dessert wine known as sherry.

Apparently the French are feeling threatened in new ways. They are now claiming that French wineries have been known as a “chateau,” such as Chateau Lafite or Chateau Margaux, for millennia. Or they’ve been called a “domaine,” such as Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. These are wines that in bad years retail for at least $500 a bottle, and in good years generally cost a great deal more. So, there’s a lot of prestige and cash surrounding these names.

Also harking back to French history and the efforts of the nobility to protect their vineyards, many French wines refer to them being located or produced in a “clos.” In this context, clos means a walled vineyard. If you’ve seen any pictures of French wineries, you’ll see that many are surrounded by walls, some even by moats. This is more for architectural effect now than self-preservation. But still, according to the French, because of the historical use of the word, “clos” evokes things French.

I guess those walled vineyards believe they’re under attack. U.S. wine producers – some with names such as Chateau St. Jean, Domaine Ste. Michelle or Clos du Bois – want to export their wines to the European Union under their California labels. The French are up in arms and vigorously opposed to this.

“What is at stake is the respect for tradition and quality,” said Laurent Gapenne of Chateau de Laville and president of the Federation des Grand Vins de Bordeaux, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. The French want to prohibit U.S. wineries from selling their wines in the EU under any label that includes “chateau,” “domaine” or “clos.”

Now, this is big business. U.S. vintners sell nearly $500 million to the EU. The EU sells nearly $2.9 billion to the U.S. This haggling is not just about being paranoid about someone else using your name. It can have repercussions in the millions or billions of dollars.

This story harks back to a family of California wine producers fighting each other over the use of the family name. Ernest and Julio Gallo sued their brother Joseph to prevent him from calling his cheese (he was only making cheese and not wine) Gallo. The pair of brothers eventually won, and Joseph was forced to sell his cheese under the label of Joseph Farms.

So, while Shakespeare might have hoped that people could live independent of their names, business has proven otherwise.

 

Carl Kanowsky of Kanowsky & Associates is an attorney in the Santa Clarita Valley. He may be reached by email at cjk@kanowskylaw.com. Nothing contained herein shall be or is intended to be construed as providing legal advice.

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