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What’s in a Name?

by David on March 12, 2007

I caught myself being cynical/complacent when I read this article. It’s just the way of the world, right? Sigh…

But really, why is this necessary? It’s very sad that the tiny brand known as Inman Family Wines in the Russian River Valley has had to knuckle-under to power-house Grange without even putting up a fight. The bottom line is that it makes good business sense. Why throw away legal fees fighting against a titan who is destined to win through sheer force of dollars?

Grange is a limited-release wine, yes? Why such a Goliath? Because Grange is really Penfolds, which is really Foster’s (as in lager), one of the biggest beverage companies on the planet. How is the Inman family, which produces about 1,500 cases total of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris to even begin to combat such a giant? It’s pointless.

Inman Pinot Label

So, what’s the deal? The word “grange” is the issue. Penfolds has sued the Inmans to get them to stop using that word on their front label which, up to now, referred to the Olivet Grange Vineyard, their estate in Russian River. So, they’ve decided their best option is to simply use an acronym, OGV, and hope that their customers can figure it out.

Why am I making a stink? Penfolds Grange was there first, right? Well, it turns out that the term “grange” commonly refers to a farm in England and Australia. Kathleen Inman said “It means a small farm with out-buildings.”  No surprise that the Inmans chose to call their new vineyard in Sonoma County a “grange” having relocated there from an 11-acre grange in England. And evidently Penfolds has strong-armed numerous Aussie producers away from using the term on their labels.

But, a trademark is a trademark. Penfolds has the right and they’re using it. We certainly don’t want to confuse people. So this tiny, virtually unknown California producer is trying to pass off their $42.00 Pinot Noir, called “Olivet Grange Vineyard”, for a world-renowned Shiraz that’s simply called “Grange” Yeah, that’s pretty hard to keep straight. I wonder if Fosters thinks that the folks in the northern Rhone should have taken issue in the old days when Grange was called Grange Hermitage? I wonder if they think that was confusing?

Fortunately, Foster’s cannot stop them from using the term grange on the back label or in their literature. This is one way the Inmans and their winery contractors can hope to assure their customers that the grapes are, indeed, coming from the same vineyard – only the name has changed.

Drat! Perhaps I was being provincial or rationalizing when I was in favor of the Napa Valley Vintners when they fought Fred Franzia over the use of the term  “Napa” in the branding of the wine. But, in that case it seems to me there was a genuine risk of confusion, plus you had deep pockets fighting deep pockets. It was a fair fight.

I know, I know, all you lawyers are going to respond that Penfolds had to do this to send a message to anyone who might like to try to mislead. But it still looks like they’re doing this just because they can. I wish I could react more like Alder, and get all energized, but in truth, it makes me tired. All of this must be quite ironic for Simon Inman, who is a business attorney, Goosecross being among his many clients.

Inman Family

So, best of luck to the Inman family. Being another very small, virtually unknown fish in a big, increasingly competitive pond we completely empathize and hope that this bit of publicity from these various sources may result in some new friends and customers for Inman Family Wines.

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