Dr. Herodotus Damianos is baffled. When the founder of Pindar Vineyards on Long Island decided eight years ago to name his new winery Duck Walk Vineyards, little did he know he would run afoul of Napa Valley vintner Dan Duckhorn.
Duckhorn, however, wants the exclusive right to use the word "duck" and images of ducks on wine labels. He is now suing Duck Walk in New York State Supreme Court to get it to change both its name and its label.
"Long Island ducks are part of our heritage," Damianos maintained. He pointed out that, before Duck Walk was a vineyard, it was a working duck farm. "We literally built the winery on top of a duck walk!"
Duckhorn, on advice from his attorneys, declined to discuss the case. But, according to spokespeople for Damianos, Duckhorn has already negotiated an out-of-court settlement with an Oregon winery, Duck Pond Cellars. (Oregon is the home of the mighty Ducks of the University of Oregon.) He has also taken on a winery in New Jersey, where ducks are also an important part of the ecosystem, if not the regional symbol they are on Long Island, where their culinary merits are well-known to gourmets far and wide.
Duckhorn's eponymous Napa Valley estate has been making wine for 25 vintages. Its reds, especially the rich and complex Cabernet Sauvignons, have frequently scored above 90 points on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale.
Duck Walk, on Long Island's South Fork, hasn't done too badly itself; recent vintages of Cabernet and Merlot have scored in the mid to upper 80s, a solid performance for a young winery in a still-developing wine region.
While Duckhorn's marquee bottlings typically go for around $50, Duck Walk's wines can be obtained for less than half that price and are rarely spotted outside New York. Although Damianos has been in the wine business for 23 years (when he founded Pindar on the North Fork), as far as he is concerned, this is strictly a David-and-Goliath situation.
That hasn't stopped the practicing physician from taking some pre-emptive action against Duckhorn. After he received Duckhorn's letter asserting possession of "duck" as intellectual property, out-of-court negotiations -- including a tour of the Duck Walk property by Duckhorn himself -- went nowhere, according to Damianos. Duck Walk then filed a motion for declaratory judgment with the New York District Court in Central Islip, N.Y., asking for a ruling on the issue.
Duckhorn responded by filing suit in the state Supreme Court (a statewide trial court, not the highest court in New York) declaring damages; the two parties are still in the deposition stages.
Duckhorn's argument is fairly straightforward: He asserts that the word "duck" and the duck imagery on Duck Walk's labels will confuse consumers trying to find his Napa wines.
"He feels that when people think 'duck,' they've got to think Duckhorn," said Damianos. "But the ducks are different. Theirs is a mallard, while ours is white. It's not confusing -- our duck is cute, theirs is ugly." Furthermore, he argued, Duck Walk and Duckhorn wines are rarely displayed together in stores.
Regardless of how far Duckhorn pursues his campaign, Damianos is determined to keep his wines quacking. "I'm just not going to buckle under."
Read more about Duck Walk:
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions