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Shafer files lawsuit over 'Hillside Select' name (and a trip down Memory Lane)

zin1953 | Jan 22, 201506:39 AM

This reminds me of a fight back in the 1960s between Louis M. Martini Winery -- at approx. 325,000 cases back then, they were known as the smallest of the "Big Guys"¹ in the Napa Valley -- and Almadén, one of the four "giants"² of California.

Because Martini not only owned vineyards in both Sonoma and Napa Counties, but also had two vineyards which straddled the county lines, many of their wines were labeled with a "California" appellation. (Remember, this was a time *before* the current system of AVAs.) And -- as most of us know -- hillside vineyards often produce higher quality fruit, all things being equal, than valley floor vineyards. (At the very least, the fruit profiles are *different*.) So on some of their wines, Martini put the appellation "California Mountain" on their labels -- to inform consumers of this distinction.

Keep in mind that, at this time, Louis Martini OWNED the Monte Rosso vineyard and used all of its grapes exclusively -- Monte Rosso being located near the top of the Mayacamas Mountains which separate Napa and Sonoma counties, but on the Sonoma side -- and sourced grapes from mountain vineyards on Mt. Veeder, Spring Mountain, and Howell Mountain.

So, the label would look like this:

BRAND.....................Louis M. Martini Winery
APPELLATION..........California Mountain
WINE NAME.............Cabernet Sauvignon

Meanwhile, of course, Almadén was famous for their semi-generic jug wines, Burgundy, Claret, Chablis, Rhine Wine, and Rosé, along with one varietal, Grenache Rosé.³ But, in order to distinguish their semi-generics from everyone else's, Almadén gave them what is known as a "fanciful" name by placing the word "Mountain" in front of the semi-generic name. Thus:

BRAND.....................Almadén Vineyards
WINE NAME.............Mountain White Chablis / Mountain Red Burgundy / etc.

Now, IMHO, the word "Mountain" on the Almadén labels was meaningless, *except* to distinguish their "Burgundy," "Chablis," etc. from the other giants⁴. In contrast -- again, IMHO -- the word "Mountain" on the Louis Martini labels was, at least, an attempt to be meaningful.

I honestly forget who filed a complaint against whom, but Louis Martini took the position I outlined in the immediately preceding paragraph. (In other words, I agree with the Martini family.) Almadén, in contrast, took the position that that there is no mountain located in the state known as "California Mountain," and so it was misleading to consumers.

Guess who won . . .

¹ The "Big Guys" were, alphabetically, Beaulieu, Beringer, Charles Krug, Inglenook, and Louis M. Martini.
² The giants, at this time, Gallo, Almadén, [Paul] Masson, and Italian Swiss Colony.
³ Almadén, of course, produced an entire range of wines -- over 60 at one point -- including varietal table wines, sparkling and dessert wines. The six mentioned above, however, accounted for the majority of their entire production.
⁴For example, Gallo called their wines "Hearty Burgundy," "Chablis Blanc," and so on; Italian Swiss Colony called theirs "Chablis Gold," and "Rheinskeller" (instead of "Rhine Wine"); etc.

Shafer files lawsuit over 'Hillside Select' name |
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