Courtwatch: Treasury Wine Estates Files Motion to Dismiss "The Stag" Lawsuit
Treasury Wine Estates is seeking a green light to sell wines under the name “The Stag” in spite of opposition from one of Napa Valley’s most renowned winery, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, according to court documents filed recently.
In August, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars LLC and its owner, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates Ltd., Washington State’s biggest producer, filed a federal lawsuit against Treasury Wine Estates Americas Co., a division of Treasury Wine Estates, over the name of the wine brand “The Stag.”
The plaintiffs alleged Treasury Wine Estates created a false and misleading connection to the Stags Leap District, one of the Napa Valley’s sub-appellation, and Stag’s Leap trademark name, by naming the wine “The Stag,” according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Northern California.
According to the complaint, which alleged trademark, advertising and other violations, “The Stag” is a “spurious knock-off” wine made with “cheaper, lower-quality fruit.”
A proposed label for “The Stag” said the wine was produced at Stags’ Leap Winery, one of Treasury Wine Estates’ properties, according to the lawsuit. Both Stags’ Leap Winery and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars are in the Stags Leap District.
Treasury Wine Estates has denied all the allegations; on Thursday, the company filed a motion to dismiss the entire case.
And in a counter lawsuit, also filed Thursday, Treasury Wine Estates said “The Stag” is actually associated with St Huberts, a winery Treasury Wine Estates owns in Australia. The company already sells wines under “The Stag” label in Australia.
St Huberts, which was established in 1862, was named after the Patron Saint of the Hunt; its emblem is a stag.
The Australian-based company filed the counter complaint to seek a court order to sell and market the wine in the United States under “The Stag.”
Its new label for the Cabernet Sauvignon would be similar to the one designed for wines sold under “The Stag” brand in Australia. The label does not mention Stags’ Leap Winery, its winemaker, or the Stags Leap District.
“The Stag proposition for commercial use in the (United States) has no connection to Stags’ Leap Winery or the Stags Leap District – this was made very clear to (Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates) before they filed their complaint,” Treasury Wine Estates said in a statement from Australia. The company said it was disappointed in the actions taken by Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.
“We believe (Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates) are not trying to protect the Stags Leap District, but instead are trying to use the legal system to stifle lawful competition,” according to the statement.
An attorney for Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars on Friday said in an email “Treasury protests too much.”
“Treasury got caught trying to play off the value of this important wine region and confuse consumers about the source and nature of its new product, which was clearly intended to capitalize on the prestige and reputation of the Stags Leap District,” wrote attorney Ann K. Ford of DLA Piper LLP in Washington, D.C. “Treasury's pleadings are therefore filled with contradictions which will come to light shortly.”
According to Treasury Wine Estates, the wines to be sold under “The Stag” brand are produced at a number of wineries in the United States, not just Stags’ Leap Winery.
“Following the success of The Stag tier of wines by St Huberts in Australia, (Treasury Wine Estates) intends to launch a North Coast Cabernet under the St Huberts brand with a similar label design, for sale in the US. Our strategy is to build global brands across multiple markets and wine sourced from multiple regions – this is no different,” according to Treasury Wine Estates. The company noted Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars produces a North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon under the brand “Hawk Crest.”
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Stags’ Leap Winery have struggled in court over the years over trademark and other issues. The companies, under different ownerships, settled their differences in 1985. Renowned vintner Warren Winiarski in 2007 sold Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars to St. Michelle Wines Estates and Marchese Piero Antinori.
A hearing on the motion to dismiss the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars case is set for Nov. 10 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.