Virginia vintner Dennis Horton has been farming grapes and making wine along the Spotswood Trail in Gordonville since 1987. There, he produces about 25,000 cases a year of Norton (a native American grape variety), Viognier, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay, most of which is sold right at Horton Vineyards.
So he was a bit surprised when earlier this week, he received a warning letter from an attorney representing Spottswoode Winery, a boutique producer of collectible Napa Valley Cabernets. Citing trademark infringement, the letter demanded that he cease using Spotswood Trail as the name of his second label and that he remove the address of the winery, 6399 Spotswood Trail, from his labels.
Horton said he has no idea how Spottswoode Winery in St. Helena even heard of him. "We've never shipped a case of Spotswood Trail to California. Ninety-nine percent of it is sold at the winery. We've never had anybody associate the two."
But Spottswoode president Beth Novak Milliken explained, "Law firms periodically do routine searches for trademark infringement. When the name 'Spotswood Trail' came up on a wine label, our attorney drew it to our attention, and suggested that it might cause confusion among consumers."
The Spottswoode name first appeared on wine labels in 1983, but it wasn't trademarked until 1997, according to Milliken. The family-owned winery produces 4,500 cases a year of Cabernet Sauvignon and 1,300 of Sauvignon Blanc.
Horton has used Spotswood Trail as a second label since 1996. He bottles two vineyard-designated Chardonnays, Tannat, and a blend of Spanish and Portuguese grape varieties called "Iberia" under the label.
"We have no desire to inflict hardship on Dennis Horton," said Milliken. "We do, however, feel that if Spotswood Trail wines were to appear on a restaurant wine list, a consumer might well get the mistaken impression that it was in some way connected with our winery."
But Milliken and Horton were able to settle the issue amicably yesterday instead of going to court. "We're not litigious people," said Milliken. Horton agreed to quit using the name after first selling off the remaining $400,000 in existing Spotswood Trail inventory. He will find a new name for his second label, but will continue to use his address on the label.
To seal the pact, the two are trading wines: Horton is sending Milliken some of Horton's Norton (a varietal that she has never tasted), and Milliken is sending some of her best wines to Horton.
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