What’s In a Name?
We’ve changed the name of my company.
Last month I received a very polite email from the owner of ‘The Second Glass’ out of New York, suggesting that I do so, since they have trademarked the name. This means that legally, no other company within the same industry in the US can use their name, or any derivative of it, no matter how different the services we offer, may be.
Trademarks have become an important part of our society. We like to brand! It gives us a sense of security of what we can expect, and it helps validate our choices. The wine industry is not exempt from this practice. France has allowed trademarks on wine regions, such as Champagne, since the early 1800’s, which then extended to other regions such as Burgundy and Bordeaux. Eventually, other wine producing countries in the Old World (essentially Europe) adopted this practice of ‘regional demarcation'(essentially trade marking ) as well. At that time wines from certain regions were gaining better reputations over others. Allowing the region the exclusive rights to put its name on the label, helped consumers feel more confident in the wine they were buying.
Concurrently, the practice of what we call generic labeling, began in America; wine retailers/merchants, selling local wines, needed to appeal to European settlers who understood the ‘Region of Origin’ of a wine. They put the familiar name of a region on the label, that matched up with what the wine tasted similar to; Chablis: a crisp, light, dry wine, White Burgundy: a fuller style and Champagne became anything sparkling. Early wine producers such as E & J Gallo, Carlo Rossi, Franzia, Cooks, Korbel, and others adopted this practice, and it became commonplace.
This type of labeling led to future generations in the New World (that’s us), misunderstanding what place names truly meant.
Many remember the ‘unappealing’ wines their parents drank, labeled as Chablis, Red Burgundy or Chianti. These same people, who may love Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Sangiovese, do not realize that these regions respectively represent the home and standard bearer of their favorite grapes; and that the ‘champagne’ they vaguely remember from childhood New Year’s Eve celebrations, bears no resemblance (except bubbles!) to the wines that are truly from the region of Champagne.
Trade Agreements between countries not to use specific place names, have existed for several years now. However, it is unfortunate that some of the older US companies, such as those listed above, are ‘grandfathered in’, therefore allowing sustained use of the old generic terms; continuing the confusion for today’s consumers.
Serious wine producing countries in today’s world honor the historical importance of these Regions of Origin with reciprocal trade agreements of their own; you won’t see wines labeled Napa Valley, Mendoza or Barossa Valley coming out of Italy, Germany or Spain. This shows respect between countries, for each other’s hard work and heritage and the wines they produce. Even though America, and most of the New World, practices varietal labeling, trade marking a wine’s Region of Origin, has become an important tool to assist consumer’s understanding of what they are buying. We can trust it as a type of brand.