The Vineyard House, a boutique Napa winery, has sued Constellation Brands in federal court, claiming that the late Robert Mondavi knowingly misled the U.S. Patent Office into granting him a trademark for the To Kalon vineyards in the Oakville AVA.
Constellation Brands bought all of Mondavi’s holdings in 2004 in a $1.36 billion deal. The company has been vigilant in enforcing the To Kalon trademark and preventing others who also own parcels of land from putting the name on their labels.
Constellation Brands has sent letters to The Vineyard House telling the winery to “cease and desist” any trademark applications that contain the term “To Kalon.”
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for Northern District of California this week, is not seeking specific monetary damages. Instead, The Vineyard House’s owner, Jeremy Justin Nickel, seeks to use the words To Kalon on his Cabernet Sauvignon.
Mondavi applied for the trademark in 1987 and it is still used since on many of the company’s highly rated wines, like Robert Mondavi Winery ‘The Reserve’ To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, and Robert Mondavi Winery To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon. Nickel, however, is asking Constellation Brands to pay for what the lawsuit calls “corrective advertising” that he says misleads consumers.
Constellation Brands, in a statement to Wine Enthusiast, said, “These allegations are without merit. Constellation Brands is committed to operating with the highest degree of ethics and integrity and in full accordance with all applicable laws and regulations, as we have for more than 70 years.”
The History of To Kalon
According to the court filings, Constellation Brands owns 188 acres of the original 526-acre To Kalon Estate that was assembled in the 19th century by Hamilton Walker Crabb, whose name is linked with pioneer winemakers like Charles Krug and Jacob Schram.
Crab planted his original 240 acres shortly after the Civil War. He went on to buy more property, where he planted vines, built a winery and nearly established a national distribution network, the court filing says.
During Crabb’s lifetime, the entire 526 acres was known as the To Kalon Estate.
After his death in 1899, E.S. Churchill bought the estate. He deeded it to his wife, who transferred the property to the “To Kalon Vineyard Co.”
In the middle of World War II, she sold the estate to San Francisco steel manufacturer Martin Stelling. When he died in 1950, the estate was broken up and sold in pieces. His son, Doug Stelling, retained a small portion, including the land now owned by The Vineyard House.
Others also own parts of the original To Kalon acreage, and at least one is making highly rated wines with that designation on its labels: Beckstoffer Vineyards, producer of To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
Constellation Brands’ legal response is expected in April.