California wine company sues Duck Walk Vineyards over logo

02/08/2013 3:00 AM |

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | Duckwalk Vineyards has been in court over a lawsuit with a California winemaker.

Duck Walk is fighting a cross-country duck war.

Though the wineries are on opposite ends of the country, Duckhorn Wine Company of St. Helena, Calif., and Long Island’s Duck Walk Vineyards have their feathers ruffled over their common denominator: the image of a duck.

Duckhorn filed a complaint against Duck Walk last month in Napa County Superior Court for breaching a contract formed in 2003 between the companies, according to the Napa Valley Register website. That agreement followed lawsuits by the companies against one another for trademark infringement.

Duckhorn is now accusing Duck Walk of failing to indicate its Long Island location on the front label of its bottles, according to Duckhorn attorney Charles Bunsow of San Francisco. He said agreement violations can be seen on Duck Walk’s 2007 cabernet and 2005 merlot labels. Court documents include other examples from 2008 and 2009 as evidence of violations.

“They do not have the required geographical designation on them, which is a clear violation of the settlement agreement they entered into in 2003,” Mr. Bunsow said in an interview with the News-Review. “It couldn’t be more obvious. I’m shocked they even say they’re going to contest this.”

Representatives for Duck Walk, which has locations in Southold and Water Mill, say they haven’t violated the agreement.

Attorney Steven Schlesinger of Garden City, who represents Duck Walk, insisted that “every bottle has the geographical location on it.

“They can’t read,” Mr. Schlesinger said. “The agreement requires us to put the geographical location on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’ front label, which is the back label to the consumer.”

The original agreement, forged with Dan Duckhorn, who founded the Duckhorn winery in 1976, outlined specific circumstances and ways in which Duck Walk, which opened in 1994, could reference the waterfowl.

In addition to requiring mention of Long Island, court documents show that the agreement limits Duck Walk’s production and distribution of wines with labels that include images of ducks or use the word “duck” — including in the winery’s name, according to Mr. Schlesinger.

He speculated that the timing of the lawsuit could be an attempt by Duckhorn’s new corporate owners to duck out of the agreement.

“I think they’re pissed that we have an agreement to use ‘duck’ and they’re trying to wiggle out of it,” he said. “They’re of the opinion that they have a trademark on all ducks. The problem is they’re not going to win that case if they want to litigate it. They will never establish that they own the word ‘duck’ or get us to change our name altogether.”

Under the terms of the existing agreement, Duck Walk’s production of wines with bottles bearing duck images or language is limited to 84,000 gallons per year. It also states that Duck Walk “shall not sell more than 50 percent of the annual gross production outside the states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.”

Mr. Schlesinger said there hasn’t been a violation there either, and that Duck Walk’s total production has not exceeded 65,000 gallons.

“Virtually 100 percent of our distributors are in the metropolitan area and one third of our production is sold at the vineyards,” he said. “If a distributor re-distributes our products somewhere else, that’s not our problem.”

Mr. Bunsow said the restriction was created to limit Duck Walk’s use of a confusingly similar mark.

“We’ll see if they lived up to that,” he said of the distribution restrictions. “If they want to sell more wine, they’re free to use a different label.”

gvolpe@timesreview.com

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