Unfiltered

A true tower of wine, caught in a scam, the truth about animal labels and another dispute over winery names
Mar 22, 2006

• Visitors traveling to Washington wine country may soon find it easier to know when they've arrived. The city government of Prosser is considering erecting a 100-foot-tall water tower shaped like a wineglass. The town, located in lower Yakima Valley near such wineries as Hogue Cellars and Willow Crest, needs a new tower for the growing neighborhoods near Interstate 82. Rather than creating another eyesore, city leaders concluded, why not erect an icon that would attract visitors? The wineglass tower would cost $2 million to build, but that's only $600,000 more than a standard water tower. Discussion on the proposal was tabled by the city council last week so that residents could have time to comment on the idea, but council members and business leaders were largely supportive. Unfiltered is hoping this becomes a nationwide trend of glass-shaped water towers, bottle-shaped municipal buildings and decanter-shaped power plants.

• Ordinarily, any small winery would be happy to receive 300 phone calls in a few weeks. But for Sawyer Cellars in Napa, the calls weren't from customers, and the reaction was anything but happy. Unbeknownst to owner Charles Sawyer, he and his winery were being used in a lottery-check scam. The con artists sent out official-looking letters to potential victims, telling them that the Canadian lottery had unclaimed money that by law had to be given away and that they had been randomly selected to receive an award in excess of $500,000. As a gesture of "good faith," the scam artists included a check for $2,400, ostensibly from one of their lottery "partners," Sawyer Cellars. Sawyer says the checks looked authentic, down to his forged signature. In turn, the recipients were asked to submit a personal check for $2,205 to cover the costs of processing and taxes. Many people sent in the payment, but many also called the winery to inquire whether the checks were valid, alerting Sawyer to the fraud. Sawyer immediately contacted his bank to place a hold on all checks and call him each day to verify all valid check claims. "All I could think of was the elderly lady on a pension sending in her $2,205," says Sawyer. Unfortunately, Sawyer says, the FBI and postal-service inspectors think it's unlikely that the perpetrators will ever be caught.

• You knew it all along. According to a recent study by ACNielsen, when American shoppers are looking to buy a wine they haven't tried before, they're twice as likely to buy one with an animal on the label. In fact, sales of wines with animal names or animals on the label rose to more than $600 million last year. It's easy to point fingers at the Yellow Tail phenomenon for spawning numerous brands featuring penguins, monkeys, emus or other creatures more likely to be found in a zoo than in a vineyard. But let's be honest: We're all suckers for animal labels. And Mouton-Rothschild has known this for years.

• Speaking of animal labels, yes, it's true. Jean Phillips has sold Screaming Eagle, and one of the new owners is Stanley Kroenke, owner of the Colorado Avalanche … who play at the Pepsi Center in Denver. So, does this mean they'll start selling Screaming Eagle at the games? And how does it taste mixed with Pepsi? We shudder at the thought ….

Diageo, which owns Provenance in Napa, doesn't seem to like the name of a certain Oregon vineyard (above).
• On most days the world of wine looks sophisticated and debonair. And other days it looks like professional wrestling. Reminiscent of the trademark dispute between the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) and the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE), Diageo has filed an opposition to the trademark application of Belle Provenance Vineyard in Oregon. Diageo, of course, owns Provenance Vineyards in Napa. The Oregon property, originally called O'Connor Vineyards, was purchased a little over three years ago by the Ramey family. "Since we aren't named O'Connor we wanted to change the name," says Tim Ramey, who chose a name he thought evoked the hard work the previous owners had put into the land. "I've tried to talk to some of the folks at Diageo and said I don't think any confusion is going to arise here. The marks are completely different. No one's going to confuse our stylized mark for their bold P mark." Diageo apparently disagrees. "Diageo owns the Provenance Vineyards trademark, for which it has made significant investment of shareholder value," said Guy Smith, executive vice president of Diageo North America. "We think the mark Belle Provenance Vineyard is confusingly similar to our mark. We will vigorously protect our rights to the fullest extent of the law." But Belle Provenance doesn't even make wine. "We just grow grapes. They're fighting a farmer here in Oregon," says Ramey, though he admits that he hopes to someday make a wine of his own. "I suppose they're trying to preempt that." This is just one of many trademark disputes--ranging from Duckhorn versus Duck Walk to Viña Santa Rita versus the entire Santa Rita Hills appellation--that have arisen in the wine business. So if you plan to buy a vineyard sometime soon, think twice about what you call it.

Unfiltered

You Might Also Like

The Making of Netflix’s 'Uncorked,' the New Movie with Serious Wine Chops

The Making of Netflix’s 'Uncorked,' the New Movie with Serious Wine Chops

Filmmaker Prentice Penny crafts a tale of culinary contrasts and father vs. son, starring …

Mar 27, 2020
A Neat Solution: Distillers Make Artisanal Hand Sanitizer, Donate to First Responders

A Neat Solution: Distillers Make Artisanal Hand Sanitizer, Donate to First Responders

Distilleries are scrambling to help alleviate the shortage of sanitizer in communities hit …

Mar 24, 2020
Updated: Chefs Rev into High Gear with Coronavirus Relief

Updated: Chefs Rev into High Gear with Coronavirus Relief

Even as their own restaurants face closures and financial disaster, chefs all over the …

Mar 20, 2020
Pop (the Cork) Art: With 37,000 Champagne Tops, World's Largest Capsule 'Fresco' Unveiled

Pop (the Cork) Art: With 37,000 Champagne Tops, World's Largest Capsule 'Fresco' Unveiled

Once every two years, Champagne cap fanatics gather at the Mondial de la Capsule. This …

Mar 12, 2020
Lambrusco Gushes from Kitchen Faucets, Deemed Drinkable; Much Rejoicing

Lambrusco Gushes from Kitchen Faucets, Deemed Drinkable; Much Rejoicing

Amid Italy's coronavirus lockdown, one producer is keeping the wine flowing—and accidentall…

Mar 11, 2020
Tito's Handmade Vodka Not for Hands, Brand Reminds Customers

Tito's Handmade Vodka Not for Hands, Brand Reminds Customers

The Austin, Texas–based vodka brand, with support from the CDC, alerts the creative hand …

Mar 6, 2020