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2 min read

Wine Labels Battle Over Wine Descriptions

On April 1, 2020, Napa Valley’s JaM Cellars (JaM) filed a complaint against The Wine Group (Group), the producer of the well-known boxed wine Franzia, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. According to the complaint, JaM is suing the Group for trademark infringement and unfair competition.

The suit alleges that a recent repackaging of the Group’s Franzia brand, which includes a prominent description of “bold & jammy,” violates JaM’s trademarks for the word “JAM” used in relation to wine products. The suit further alleges that the particular phrasing, as well as its marketing on the new Franzia packaging, is an attempt to capitalize upon JaM’s reputation and success.

JaM has previously argued that “jam” is neither a known nor a common flavor profile description for wine — a fact the winery argues is reinforced by its trademark for “JAM.” Therefore, the word’s use is “inherently distinctive” to JaM’s brand, the complaint alleges. JaM is seeking to bar the Group from using the phrase “bold & jammy” in relation to any of its wines, and to have the existing boxes displaying the “bold & jammy” phrase recalled.

Is “Jammy” Distinctive?

In April 2019, the Group announced that it would relaunch its Franzia label with a new, multi-million-dollar campaign. According to the complaint, the Group has undertaken the “first major marketing campaign in thirty-five years for [the] Franzia brand, which includes a full packaging revamp, as well as new products and line extensions.” The campaign includes the release of the Cabernet Sauvignon upon which this particular lawsuit is focused: Bold & Jammy.

One of JaM’s most popular labels is its signature Cabernet, aptly named JaM. Since 2009, JaM Cabernet has sold almost 1.6 million bottles nationwide, producing more than $16 million in sales. Additionally, JaM has spent more than $35 million promoting and advertising its wines, gradually building up its brand recognition with consumers.

As a result of those significant advertising expenditures, use of the word “jam” has “also acquired distinctiveness among wine consumers,” attorneys for JaM asserted in the complaint, implying an inherent connection of the word “jam” to the winery’s labels.

Contentious History Between the Labels

This particular lawsuit is the latest in a series of suits that JaM has filed against the Group.

In 2017, JaM filed a federal trademark infringement action against the Group based on its use of the mark “BUTTERKISSED” in a Chardonnay wine, and claimed doing so infringed upon the rights of JaM in its well-known Butter Chardonnay. During the course of the litigation, documents produced by the Group demonstrated that it was purposefully targeting the success of JaM’s Chardonnay line. The litigation was eventually settled outside of court.

In April 2019, JaM filed suit against the Group alleging that the Group’s use of the “rich & buttery” description for its Chardonnay violated JaM’s “BUTTER” mark. JaM asserted that the Group’s use of the “BUTTER” mark in its “rich & buttery” Chardonnay was likely to cause consumer confusion.

Judge Orders Consolidation

On May 11, 2020, Judge Haywood Gilliam entered an order consolidating the RICH & BUTTERY case with the BOLD & JAMMY case, both brought by JaM against the Group. The judge explained that because both cases involved claims by JaM that the Group’s marketing and branding of its wines infringed on several of JaM’s trademarks, the two cases were related enough to warrant consolidation.

A jury trial that had been scheduled for July has now been pushed back for the consolidated proceedings until December.

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