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Shafer Sues Young Ridge Over Label Similarity

Daniel Sogg
Posted: January 3, 2000

Shafer Vineyards in Napa Valley has filed a lawsuit against Leroy Young, claiming that his Young Ridge Cabernet labels are "strikingly similar" to Shafer's flagship bottling, the Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select.

A Napa Valley retailer first alerted Shafer to the Young Ridge label in late November. "It's blatant," said John Shafer, chairman and founder of the winery. "From 10 feet away, you couldn't tell the difference."

Shafer, which was founded in 1979, produces about 2,300 cases per year of its Hillside Select Cabernet, one of Napa Valley's most coveted and allocated wines. The most recent release, 1995, retails for $110.

Leroy Young, owner of Young Ridge Winery, makes 300 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon from 1.75 acres planted at his Napa home. He is currently building a winery in Pope Valley, where he owns another 99 acres of vines, and plans to increase production to 5,000 cases annually within three years. His first three vintages -- overseen by consultant Nils Venge, who was also named in the suit -- were released in October. The 1995, 1996 and 1997 Young Ridge Cabernets retail for $60 each.

Shafer filed the "trade dress infringement" suit against Young because he feels the resemblance between the two labels could cause confusion. "This is a trade dress issue that is very likely to mislead our customers and impacts directly on our commitment to quality," he explained.

"It's very frustrating to start out in business and have someone lay a lawsuit on me," said Young. "If my label resembles theirs, it's purely coincidence. If it could cause confusion, I'd be willing to discuss it. I just thought it was strange to press a suit without first making a phone call."

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