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Insurance Firm Asks Winery to Remove Its "John Hancock" From Labels

The John Hancock company objected to New Zealand's Trinity Hill using the signature of its winemaker on its bottles.

Bob Campbell
Posted: July 26, 2003

Most wine drinkers wouldn't easily confuse a large U.S. insurance company with a New Zealand Chardonnay. But John Hancock Life Insurance Co. has forced Trinity Hill winery to remove the signature of its winemaker, who happens to be named John Hancock, from its wine labels.

Trinity Hill, a midsized wine producer in New Zealand's Hawkes Bay region, has marketed its wines in the United States since 1986. It makes Chardonnay, Merlot, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Cabernet blends.

"We were surprised to receive a letter demanding that we drop my signature from the label," said Trinity Hill winemaker John Hancock. "The insurance company adopted the 'John Hancock' name as a brand, while in our case, the signature is the mark of a living winemaker — me. Under New Zealand law, they wouldn't have a case because wine and insurance are totally unrelated businesses. The same may be true under U.S. law, but in the end, we decided to drop the signature from our label rather than challenge their claim through the courts."

Trinity Hill isn't alone in its connection to a famous name. Hancock discovered that another winery, Stanley Brothers in Australia, also uses a "John Hancock" signature on its label.

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