Constellation v Vineyard House ("To Kalon" Trademark in Jeopardy???)

Thanks for posting the pamphlet. How interesting that the info is literally signed by Robert Mondavi.

Although I’m not an attorney, my most carefully considered lay-person legal advice is to throw an big honking Berserker post-Covid party with that bottle :slight_smile:.

That’s gold there, Alex.

Also, my inner geek looks at the winemaking and wine. Made in roto-tanks? [popcorn.gif]

7g/L of acid and 3.42 pH sounds like exactly the right acid for 22.5-23 brix, which would make 13%. Most NorthCoast and SLH Pinots carry less acid than this wine did. 88F ferment temps is on the warmer side and more like what many ferment at nowadays, but not so much back then, although there was less temp control back then so it might have juts fermented at whatever temp it wanted.

Another interesting nugget of info from the decision is that the Vineyard House sells 75% of their grapes each year to Harlan. Harlan presents itself as an estate wine but I had heard rumors that they do purchase grapes from outside their estate. This seems to confirm that, although in this case the fact TVH is contiguous to their estate perhaps makes it feel semi-legit.

I also think it’s fair to point out that Jared was most likely not told the whole story by his employer. Unfortunately, Constellation has proven themselves to be disingenuous on a number of occasions and I think that’s what happening here.

It’s really been thanks to the hard work of Andy Beckstoffer over the last 20 years that that To Kalon has become as revered as it has, and it took Constellation a long time to realize that they could do a better job of monetizing their trademark. Unfortunately, they have gone about it in the wrong way. Fear that someday later this decade, they will come to regret the decisions they have made in this regard.

I just read the decision as well. The court found Mondavi DID advise the USPTO of the historical nature of the use of the name as a winery. The issue was whether he also told them it was geographic in nature as well. It is suggested above that the trademark could be in peril in the future because of this, but I think the Court’s findings that Mondavi did NOT knowingly misrepresent facts in applying for the 1986 trademark are compelling and would be dispositive in any future gambit.

As the court said:

"RMW’s application shows that RMW explicitly advised the USPTO that To Kalon had previously had a historical usage, stating: “[p]rior to the turn of the 20th Century, there was a winery in the Napa Valley which used the name ‘Tokalon.’” This was true, as is the fact that the “use of the name was discontinued.” Had the name been as famous in the 1980s as it is today, it would have been unnecessary for Mr. Mondavi to commission a historical report on the land which compiled all the historic information. The context of the commission increases the reliability of its findings and provides circumstantial evidence of Mr. Mondavi’s state of mind. Notably, TVH identifies no motive for the alleged misrepresentation or need to have skewed the historical record. Nor does the Court discern one. Rather it is much more likely that the name was known to some but not all. Moreover, the representation to the USPTO was accurate.

In terms of whether RMW could have been more complete in its response to the USPTO, the Court agrees with Mr. Robert Cissel who credibly testified that this historic information is not the type of material information which is determinative of whether the “primary significance” of a term is geographic. To Kalon does not refer to an AVA or a town or any other primary geographic location. The record is replete with evidence showing that Mr. Crabb used To Kalon both as a brand and as a reference to his vineyard. TVH’s attempt to make a stark distinction which did not exist historically fails.

The weight of the evidence supports the finding that RMW provided the USPTO with sufficient information and did not represent the then-current historical view of To Kalon, and, in any event, given that historic use of the term as both a brand and a vineyard, there was no need for the USPTO to reject the application on the basis that the “primary significance” of the term was geographic. The affirmative defense of cancellation fails. Similarly, TVH’s claim for declaratory relief of non-infringement due to cancellation also fails."

The question is where do these grapes end up… They make like a dozen wines at this point, and really only the Harlan and 5 Bond crus (maybe Promontory?) are held up as “grand cru” type estate vineyard designates AFAIK.

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I’m not entire sure the above is correct. When asked by the USPTO whether or not there was any historical geographic connection to the term “To Kalon” Mondavi responded:

“Prior to the turn of the 20th Century, there was a winery in Napa Valley which used the name “Tokalon”…That winery was sold off in parcels during the first 15 - 20 years of the 20th century and use of the name was discontinued. Accordingly, although the name has some historical significance, it has no current meaning or significance in the wine industry.” - Robert Mondavi c. 1987

What is interesting is that when Mondavi finally had a few dollars to spend on vineyards in 1969, a few years after his separation from the rest of his family, the follow announcement appeared in the LA times:
Mondavi ToKalon Clipping 1969.pdf (108 KB)
Now it seems to me that as we peel back layers of the onion, Mondavi was well-aware of the geographic history and significance of To Kalon. To say that Mondavi “resurrected” the use of To Kalon soley in 1987 when he applied for the trademark, would appear to be in direct conflict with the note on the 1978 Reserve Cabernet and his own press release from 1969.

Additionally, in 2004, Mondavi commissioned the below Map:

Which can be seen at the Mondavi Winery, which actually very clearly shows the established borders of the Crabb 1891 purchase and includes other vineyards not owned by Mondavi. I think this most certainly starts to make the case that Mondavi most likely, deceptively downplayed or ignored the historical geographic significance of To Kalon in his trademark application.

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In my opinion this is a “punt.” The court has an easy way out, can’t or won’t get to the real issue, and says “hey you all are not even on this land so you have no beef.” The court then leaves the legitimacy of the TM for a later date. While some of the evidentiary findings in Mondavi’s representations at the time of the application are interesting, this ruling will probably just be persuasive at best. In other words, courts don’t need to follow it in future cases but it may be instructive.


Thanks for this incredible note-so fascinating!

Have a .750ml '78 Reserve I haven’t opened. What special occasion will this bottle be opened at if I may ask?

Looks like he changed his name?