Sour Grapes. When Similar Names Create Confusion

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Stag’s Leap Wine vs. Stags’ Leap: A Tale of Two Wineries

Stag’s Leap Wine, product of the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars rose to prominence in 1973 when it competed against wines around the world in the Judgement of Paris and won. At the time it came as a shock that an American wine could compete against a French wine. This Judgement was the catalyst for the wine industry’s takeoff in the United States.

Naturally, wine enthusiasts and everyday people wanted to try the wine that had been deemed better than French wine. Unfortunately, there was confusion. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars had a neighbor called “Stags’ Leap Winery.” Stag’s Leap did not approve of its neighbor and competitor receiving attention and business as a result of confusion about its name.

Stag’s Leap took Stags’ Leap to court in a case that ultimately went to the California Supreme Court. California’s Supreme Court ultimately ruled in 1986 that both wineries could continue to exist provided Stag’s Leap place their apostrophe before the “s” and Stags’ leap placed their apostrophe after the “s.”

Although the two wineries had somewhat adversarial relations due to their years long legal battle, they ultimately found themselves on the same side of a legal battle (which ultimately failed) to prevent the creation of the Stags Leap District AVA in 1989.

This case ultimately demonstrates that copyrights are not all powerful at protecting a business’s brand from other businesses with similar names. Copyright law can be challenging and at times it can be difficult to know what constitutes a copyright infringement and what does not. In the Stags Leap case, the two wineries were ultimately allowed to keep their respective names with clarification on the apostrophes because both were founded at the same time and at the same place. It is likely that had one winery predated the other by a significant amount of time, the court would have ruled the newer winery needed to change its name.

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