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France Has Got This South African Vintner's Goat

Fairview Estate owner Charles Back is embroiled in a trademark dispute with the French government over his Goats du Roam label.

James Molesworth
Posted: August 25, 2003

Think anti-French sentiment is high only in the United States? One prominent South African vintner recently handed a bag of goat manure over to the French attaché in Cape Town in protest.

Fairview Estate owner Charles Back handed over his "gift," along with some of his wine, to draw attention not to geopolitical concerns, but to a simmering trademark dispute between his Paarl winery and the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine (INAO), the French government's wine regulatory body.

The dispute stems from Fairview's Goats do Roam and Goat-Roti labels, which the INAO feels unfairly resemble France's controlled appellation names of Côtes du Rhône and Côte-Rotie.

The tongue-in-cheek names on the labels are homage to the goats that reside at Fairview. The Goats do Roam wines, in red, white and rosé versions, are made from blends of grapes commonly used in Côtes du Rhône wines, such as Cinsault, Grenache and Grenache Blanc, among others. The Goat-Roti is a Syrah, Mourvèdre and Viognier blend.

The Goats do Roam and Goat-Roti labels were trademarked in Great Britain and Europe in 1998, when Back first launched the brand, without any objection from the INAO. But the dispute arose when he tried to trademark the names in the United States in early 2002. The wines debuted in the country with the 2000 vintage and quickly became a success, earning "good" (80 to 84 points) to "very good" (85 to 89) ratings from Wine Spectator and selling well, at about $10 a bottle for the Goats do Roam and $17 for the Goat-Roti.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is currently considering Back's 100-page claim to the names. At a certain point during the registration process, any party who believes the trademark will damage them can oppose its registration. The INAO recently filed for an extension to respond to the claim.

The INAO confirmed that it does object to the names, but declined to comment on its reasons.

French winemakers have been feeling an economic pinch these days, as sales of French wines in the United States have dropped markedly this year, and American consumers are now buying more Australian, Italian and South African wines. Rhône producers exported 501,639 cases of wine to the United States this past year, according to Impact Databank. In comparison, South Africa sent 423,000 cases in 2002. Those numbers may seem like small potatoes in the overall scheme of things (some Australian brands send 1 million cases by themselves), but the South African total is up from 281,000 cases in 2001, while Rhône exports were flat.

In his trademark defense, Back notes that he is the third generation to own and run Fairview, and that there were Syrah vines on the property when his grandfather bought it in 1937. In addition to its 370 acres of vineyards, the estate is also home to a commercial herd of approximately 600 goats and is South Africa's largest producer of specialty cheeses. The herd has been maintained at the estate since 1978, and the property's goat tower and goats are featured on several of Fairview's labels.

Just in case the French missed that, Back said, he included some cheese with his "gift." But then again, the French are currently involved in trade discussions to protect the names of their cheeses from encroachment by other countries too.

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Check our ratings of Fairview wines.

Read more about South African wines and Fairview:

  • May 15, 2002
    South Africa's Newfound Value
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