Another North Coast legal war of trademarked wine words has emerged into public view, as two Davises contend over rights to the surname.
Healdsburg-based Davis Family Vineyards said it sued Davis Estates LLC of Napa Valley in federal court on Wednesday claiming trademark infringement and unfair and deceptive trade practices. The complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California alleged infringement of its registered “Davis Family Vineyards” trademark, used on bottles since the late 1990s, by the use of “Davis Estates” on the Napa Valley wine.
The Sonoma County vintner seeks a jury trial, injunctive relief, treble damages and attorneys’ fees.
“I feel as though pursuing legal protection is my only option at this stage,” said Guy Davis, co-founder and owner of Davis Family Vineyards, in the lawsuit announcement Dec. 14. “Our 20 years in the wine business has mostly been friendly and collaborative, where winemakers share ideas and look out for one another.”
He claims he tried several times over a year, in person and in writing, to resolve what he calls brand confusion. Those attempts supposedly included showing boxes of materials demonstrating brand usage for 20 years to Davis Estates proprietor Michael Davis and his attorney.
“Industry standards that set precedent were shared with him, since he’s a newcomer to the business…,” Guy Davis said.
He said he suggested Davis Estates could adopt variations in brand name, like those used for famous North Coast wine family names. The Mondavi name is used by Robert Mondavi Winery, Michael Mondavi Family Estates and C.K. Mondavi, and the Smith name by Charles Smith, Smith & Hook, W.H. Smith, Smith-Madrone Vineyards.
Michael Davis did try to resolve this two years ago, according to his attorney, Daniel Reidy of Reidy Law Group in St. Helena. In 2014 when the Davis Estates winery was well under construction and the wine was being sold, Michael Davis offered to meet with Guy Davis on how they could both use the common surname without conflict, but Guy Davis purportedly turned it down.
Guy Davis claims in the Dec. 14 lawsuit that continued use of “Davis Estates” is confusing wholesale vendors, restaurant buyers and new and long-time consumers.
One alleged confusion stood out for the Healdsburg vintner. An article in the Napa Valley Register incorrectly named “Davis Family Estates” when reporting on a series of controversial timber-clearing requests near Angwin’s Howell Mountain winegrowing region that were sought by Davis Estates affiliates. The Healdsburg vintner claims this error “generated a considerable amount of negative publicity for Davis Family Vineyard, as several prominent organizations in the Napa Valley mistakenly sent them letters of concern instead of Davis Estates.”
There were other supposed incidents of consumer confusion detailed in the legal filing:
• A tour company is said to have mistakenly sent Davis Family Vineyards-bound guests to Napa Valley.
• A customer thought Davis Family Vineyards had opened a second tasting room or relocated.
• A wine buyer in Texas purchased Davis Estates wines after he was incorrectly told they were associated with Davis Family Vineyards and its co-founding winemaker Guy Davis.
• On Dec. 2, consumers who had previously attended a Davis Family Vineyards winemaker dinner at the two-Michelin-star restaurant Melisse mistakenly emailed Davis Estates requests to purchase Davis Family Vineyards wine. The consumers were looking to acquire Davis Family Vineyards wine for an event for 25–30 people on Dec.10. The email purportedly was not forwarded to Davis Family Vineyards until after Dec. 10.