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Constellation/Robert Mondavi Winery vs The Vineyard House: Set to begin trial Monday (083120) in San Francisco Federal Court

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After roughly five months of plastering the San Francisco Federal Court docket with  thousands of scattershot pages of mostly disorganized, poorly labeled, heavily redacted and frequently irrelevant and incoherent filings, the hot mess, grudge match between Constellation-subsidiary Robert Mondavi Winery and The Vineyard House is finally scheduled to begin Monday, August 31.

 

NOTE: Because of the uneven and often incomprehensible nature of the court filings, we have not included as many document links as in the past. As usual, most other than the ones above,  links will be live for premium subscribers.

Legal assistance making sense of filings requested, ignored

In an attempt to create a focus out of the morass of filings, on July 7, 2020, Wine Industry Insight emailed the attorneys for the dueling parties and asked if they could each, separately, create five bullet points that “explain the most significant issues they see at stake, and what that means for the wine industry.”

 

Neither side replied.

 

That’s not unusual in cases  where neither side is terribly interested in having the public fully understand the issues. It could also be interpreted as believing that there are no consequences, or that the attorneys do not actually understand what the consequences might be.

 

In any event, silence is the mother of speculation and inaccuracy.

The dispute in short:

  • RMW maintains it has the exclusive intellectual property (IP) rights to use “To Kalon” on its wines and other materials.
  • The Vineyard House contends that “To Kalon” is a place and because it is a geographic locale, the name is not subject to trademarks and other IP registrations and restrictions.

The dispute is about money.

Value is underpinned by image which is enhanced by the perception of scarcity.

 

Scarcity allows To Kalon grapes to sell for as much as $38,000/ton — approximately 4X as much as fruit from adjacent vineyards. WII could find no definitive, quantitative evidence in the court record that wine made from To Kalon grapes is better than  adjacent fruit.

 

However, the haphazard mish-mash of filings and their obscure titles may have obscured that. We certainly would have asked for this data had the attorneys responded to questions.

 

The ag appraisers we have spoken with with all agree that the price of vineyard land is tied to the price of the grapes grown on it.

 

There may be a discussion of this in the many redacted documents by both parties and the secret filings under seal.

The fundamental motivations underpinning the legal controversy

  • The Vineyard House wants to expand the amount of vineyard land that can be termed “To Kalon” to include its nearby parcels.
  • Constellation/RMW wants to stop others from using To Kalon in their wine, and thus keep the land and grapes scarce — and expensive.

Map from The True Story of To-Kalon Vineyard by Matt Stamp. Right-click map to view a larger image.

Place or trademark? Constellation/RMW’s equivocal position

(Redacted. Full text for for Wine Executive News Premium Subscribers.)

RMW argues To Kalon is its “brand.” But TTB label filings say “maybe not”

(Redacted. Full text for for Wine Executive News Premium Subscribers.)

Screen Shot 2020-08-30 at 2.04.54 PM

Other than B Cellars, no other evidence revealed so far indicates that any winery, including RMW, has used To Kalon as a brand. Indeed, Doug Frost MW/MS, TVH’s expert witness noted that in his declaration (link$):

Screen Shot 2020-08-30 at 1.57.57 PM


 

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RMW guardians of quality? Maybe not.

(Redacted.)

Economic reality probably ultimate arbiter

(Redacted.)

Comparative Ratings

TTB records accessible online from 1993 to present show that, in addition to B Cellars,  at least five other wineries have registered To Kalon labels.

 

Other wineries, such as Paul Hobbs, did not designate To Kalon as a “fanciful name” and were not found during searches of the TTB Certificate of Label Approval database.

 

That makes this an anecdotal comparison of ratings rather than a definitive one.

 

Links below are live for Wine Executive News Premium Subscribers.

Vintage 2006

  • Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon To-Kalon Vineyard– Cellar Tracker 95Tracker 92.3 Robert Parker, 95
  • 2006 B Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To-Kalon Vineyard — Cellar 2006

Vintage 2011

  • Robert Mondavi Winery 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve To-Kalon Vineyard, — Cellar Tracker 91.5
  • Tor Kenward Family Wines 2011 “Beckstoffer To Kalon” Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc (750ml). — Cellar Tracker: 93.4
  • Tor Kenward Family Wines 2011 “Beckstoffer To Kalon” Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc (1.5L) — Not found at Cellar Tracker
  • “The Debate” 2010 Beckstoffer To Kolon Missouri Hopper (A strange “reimported” outlier “)that looks to have been bottled in New York.) Cellar Tracker, 93.6,Robert Parker, 95

Vintage 2012

  • 2012 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve To-Kalon Vineyard–Cellar Tracker 92.1.
  • Cliff Lede Vineyards 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, “Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard”  Cabernet Sauvignon — Not found at Cellar Tracker

Vintage 2013

  • 2013 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve To-Kalon Vineyard– Cellar Tracker, 92  — Robert Parker 95
  • Paul Hobbs Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Not found in  TTB/COLA search) — Robert Parker, 100
  • Moone – Tsai Vineyards, 2013 “To Kalon”Cabernet Sauvignon Not rated at Cellar Tracker, Robert Parker, 92

Vintage 2016

  • 2016 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon The Reserve To-Kalon Vineyard — CellarTracker 92.6 ,Robert Parker, 96
  • Cliff Lede Vineyards 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, “Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon – Not rated at Cellar Tracker, also not found at Wine.com.
  • Cliff Lede Vineyards 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, “Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard”  Cabernet Sauvignon (label change?)
  • Paul Hobbs Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (Not found in  TTB/COLA search) — Robert Parker, 99

Lawyers leave issue unaddressed

In addition, one might have expected RMW and TVH to have had their dueling MWs  — Mark De Vere (for RMW) and Doug Frost (TVH) address this issue in a substantive way in their filings.

 

Nowhere could that discussion that could be found in the court docket’s chaotic dumpster-fire document disaster.

 

To Kalon COLA Registrations (None found before 09/14/2007)

A TTB online record search for To Kalon from 1993 to present show that least six wineries other than RMW made To Kalon wines. No entries were found for the alternate spellings: To-Kalon or ToKalon.

ToKalon-2007-2020-page1--TTB_Online_-_COLAs_Online_-_Public_COLA_Registry_Basic_Search_Results_-_2020-08-28_06.02.21 ToKalon-2007-2020-page2--TTB_Online_-_COLAs_Online_-_Public_COLA_Registry_Basic_Search_Results_-_2020-08-28_06.03.43