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It's Cult Versus Cult in the Napa Valley

by Kerana Todorov
June 10, 2021

 

A Napa Valley wine company is suing a St. Helena winery over the name “Cult,” according to court records.

Napa-based Appellation Trading Co. LLC produces a Napa Valley wine named “Cult,” a label that was first used in January 2010, according to the federal complaint filed June 8. The label has been produced since then under different ownerships. According to the lawsuit, the Snider family—or Beau Vigne—of Yountville first labeled a Napa Valley wine “Cult” in January 2010.

However, in July 2011 a St. Helena winery, Salvestrin Wine Co., also named one of its wines “Cult” according to the intellectual property lawsuit.

Salvestrin demanded that the Snider family stop using “Cult,” according to the lawsuit. The Snider family refused and the label remained in use. Salvestrin never followed up “on its threat to sue,” according to the complaint.

The Snider brand then changed hands. In 2018, the Snider family sold its vineyard and winery to Summit Vineyards Estate LLC. About a year later, in November 2019, Appellation Trading Co. purchased the “Cult” label. The company also purchased Summit’s vineyards and inventory.

Salvestrin did not demand that Appellation drop “Cult” immediately after the sale, according to the complaint. But in February 2021, Salvestrin “demanded that (Appellation Trading Co.) immediately cease and desist sales of the label or face Federal Court litigation,” according to the lawsuit.

Salvestrin claimed to have first used “Cult” in 2009—before the Snider family did, according to the complaint. In a “lengthy” letter, Appellation Trading Co. refused, calling the claim “groundless.” Then a trademark litigator based in Silicon Valley sent a second letter on behalf of Salvestrin, reiterating the demand that Appellation stop using “Cult” and threatened the company with a court action if it did not.

“Again, (Appellation Trading Co.) provided a lengthy response explaining why it would not accede to the demand,” according to the court filing.

In its lawsuit, Appellation Trading Co. argues that Salvestrin did not receive a COLA label for “Cult” until July 2011. “The first lawful user was the Snider Family,” Appellation Trading Co. stated in its complaint.

Appellation Trading Co. also argued that Salvestrin allegedly knew “it did not have substantially exclusive use” of the name “Cult” when it applied for a trademark registration, according to the complaint. “The (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office) relied on this false statement in issuing the registration,” the lawsuit alleged. In fact, “Cult” had been used for more than a decade by the Snider family and other owners of the label, including Appellation Trading Co., according to the complaint.

More litigation is expected. Appellation Trading Co.’s attorney, Paul Reidl of Half Moon Bay, on Tuesday said he expects Salvestrin to “most likely file a counterclaim for trademark infringement.”

Last week, Appellation Trading Co.’s principal reached out to Salvestrin and confirmed it intended to sue over “Cult,” according to the complaint.

 


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