Fri 25 Jul 2014
The Jameson brand represents the largest-selling Irish whiskey in the world. The company was founded in Dublin in 1780 by (of all things) Scotsman John Jameson. Its parent entity is Irish Distillers Corp, formed in 1966, which in turn was acquired by Pernod-Ricard in 1988. Pernod-Ricard encompasses 36 spirits and wine brands that include Absolut, Chivas Regal, Ballantine’s Scotch, Beefeater Gin, Jameson, Kahlua, The Glenlivet, G.H. Mumm and Perrier-Jouet. Let me know if you haven’t heard of any of those names. The company owns 96 production sites in 23 countries, according to its annual report for 2012-13. Total assets currently are $8.72 billion, according to Market Watch. Pernod-Ricard is, in other words, a company that possesses worldwide depth and breadth, mega-clout and the dinero to back up its claims.
Jamieson Ranch Vineyards is a winery located in the Napa Valley, in fact the southernmost winery in the appellation. Formerly known as Kirkland Ranch Winery and Reata Vineyard, the company changed its name to Jamieson Ranch in 2013; it happens to be located on Jameson (not Jamieson) Canyon Road. The history of the property is tangled, involving dubious business decisions going back to the late 1990s and bankruptcy filings, but it is owned now by Madison Vineyard Holdings of Greenwood Village, Colorado, a company involved in myriad enterprises including high-end art storage in New York. Jamieson Ranch produces about 35,000 cases annually under its eponymous label, retaining the Reata name for some pinot noirs and chardonnays, and uses the Light Horse brand for inexpensive products. Prices for the Jamieson and Reata wines range from about $24 to $60. Assets of Madison Vineyard Holdings, according to the company’s website, are $250 million.
Early this year, Irish Distillers sent a cease-and-desist letter to Madison Vineyard Holdings, asserting that “Jamieson” is “confusingly similar” to “Jameson” and is “likely to cause consumer confusion and/or the appearance that your client’s business originates from or is endorsed or authorised by Irish Distillers,” the use of which is likely to dilute the mark “Jameson.” Madison Vineyard Holdings responded by filing suit against Irish Distillers for declaratory relief, a term that is totally meaningless to me but I assume implies that there’s no danger to Jameson Irish Whiskey from Jamieson Ranch Winery and that Jameson should leave Jamieson the hell alone.
It seems to me that only people who lack the intellectual prowess to tell the difference between, say, Lady Gaga and Little Lulu — meaning lawyers — would find the labels, intentions and products of Jameson Irish Whiskey and the wines of Jamieson Ranch Vineyard “confusingly similar.”
Let’s examine the evidence.
Jameson Irish Whiskey is a distilled spirit made from grain. The alcohol content is 40 percent. It’s a rich amber-brown color. It looks and tastes nothing like wine.
The products of Jamieson Ranch Vineyards are fermented from grapes. Alcohol contents tend to be about 13.5 to 14.5 percent. Colors range from ruby-purple to pale gold. They look and taste nothing like Irish whiskey.
Additionally, distilled spirits and wine are stored in different sections of retail stores, none of which want to muddy the waters by keeping whiskey next to wine. I cannot conceive that any person would set a bottle of one next to the other and think, “Oh ho, these brands must be the same.” Despite these factors, lawyers for Pernod-Ricard are tallying the billable hours in going after a harmless gnat with a baseball bat. This rigamarole makes as much sense as a case I mentioned three years ago in which the giant Anheuser-Busch InBev went after a tiny winery in Argentina called Budini because their label would “dilute” the effect of Budweiser. The result was than Budini became Bodini. Money counts, as if you didn’t know.