Vineyard House seeks injunction over Constellation Brands’ To Kalon labeled wines

After an earlier lawsuit was dismissed this year, wine brand The Vineyard House has sought another injunction to prevent Constellation Brands from selling wines labelled under the brand name To Kalon Vineyard Company.

The Vineyard House, founded by Jeremy Nickel, launched a lawsuit against Constellation brands back in 18 March, disputing its rights to use the To Kalon name. This was dismissed by a federal judge in July, but Nickel was given the opportunity to amend his complaint.

He has now launched a fresh lawsuit, with a hearing scheduled for 7 January 2020.

The dispute centres around Napa’s To Kalon Vineyard, which was bought by Henry Walker Crabb in 1868 and has long been the centre of legal battles and trademark disputes.

Crabb initially bought 240 acres of land near Oakville in 1868, with a winery following in 1872. In 1881, he bought a further 119 acres of land next to his original vineyard, with the total area now amounting to 359 acres.

Disputes have arisen as to whether all of these 359 acres are the To Kalon vineyard, or whether a further 165 acres of land on higher ground, which Crabb acquired in the late 1880s and didn’t plant, should also be included.

Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville, owned by Constellation Brands, obtained a trademark for the “To Kalon” name in 1988 and “To Kalon Vineyard” in 1994.

Seven (including The Vineyard House) different entities now lay claim to ownership of parts of the vineyard, the principal owners, aside from Robert Mondavi, being Opus One and grower Andy Beckstoffer.

In its new lawsuit, The Vineyard House alleges that Constellation Brands “seeks to monopolise the name ‘To Kalon’ by claimed it as a registered trademark”.

The wine brand claims that the name To Kalon has “geographic and historic significance” and should not have been allowed “to be exclusively owned by Constellation Brands”.

The Vineyard House claims to produce wine from a portion of the original, historic To Kalon estate and seeks to use the name in connection with the wines sourced from these vines.

Constellation, however, is threatening to sue the wine brand if this goes ahead.

Commenting on the injunction, Nickel stated: “The legacy of H.W. Crabb and the iconic To-Kalon Estate represent a specific place within Napa Valley and a unique history that is well documented on my educational website (www.historyofto-kalon.com).

“Preserving the unique heritage and history that help to make Napa Valley such a special place has been a lifelong passion that was instilled in me by my father Gil Nickel. My father taught me the importance of place and history and the need to preserve that history for future generations so that they can better understand the pioneers like H.W. Crabb who forged the early history of the Napa Valley that we all love so much.”

A particular point of contention appears to be Constellation’s move from advertising its wines as sourced from the To Kalon Vineyard, and actually creating the To Kalon Vineyard Company in May 2019 under which it is selling wines. The first was a Cabernet Sauvignon which retails for US$200 a bottle.

The Vineyard House disputes the fact that all of Constellation’s wines under the To Kalon label are sourced from the historic site. It singles out its ‘I Block’, which it says was part of a parcel of land that Crabb acquired in 1891, but only owned for a week.

The Vineyard House also claims that Constellation is “misleading and confusing the public” and “diluting and diminishing the value of the To Kalon designation”.

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