It turns out Cambria’s in Santa Barbara County (or is it Sonoma County?) and there’s no difference between beer and wine. And cheese? It might as well be a kind of alcoholic beverage, too.
Welcome to the wacky world of U.S. trademark law. That’s the signpost up ahead. Your next stop: The Twilight Zone.
Cambria Beer Co., located in Cambria, has agreed to stop using the town’s name as part of its brand because the parent firm of a winery — which doesn’t brew beer and is not located anywhere near Cambria — objected.
Cambria Estate Winery chose its name “almost 30 years ago,” said Aimee Sands, senior communications manager for the winery, which is owned by Jackson Family Wines. According to an online database, the company filed to register “Cambria” as a trademark for some of its wines on Feb. 19, 1991.
But let the record show (I’m writing like a lawyer here for dramatic effect) that the name Cambria, as applied to the Central Coast town of some 6,000 residents, dates back more than a century before that: The U.S. Post Office made it official in 1870.
Shouldn’t a wine called “Cambria” actually come from, well, Cambria?
Actually, there is precedent for protecting the name of an alcoholic beverage that’s produced in a specific region. In Europe, you can’t call a sparkling wine Champagne unless it actually comes from the Champagne region of France. When shopping in the European Union, you can be sure that wines on the shelves labeled “Burgundy” come from Burgundy, and that Bordeaux comes from Bordeaux. There’s no confusion about what you’re getting.
In this case, though, Cambria wine comes not from Cambria, but from a plateau east of Santa Maria that’s more than 80 miles away. Not even in the same county. And it’s bottled by Jackson Family Wines, which has its headquarters in the Sonoma County city of Santa Rosa, nearly 300 miles from Cambria.
According to its website, the Cambria Estate winery produces mostly pinot noir and chardonnay, with lesser amounts of three other varieties. No mention of beer. The Cambria Beer Co. site, for its part, makes no mention of wine, either. It lists various kinds of beer, most of them containing the words “stout,” “wheat” and “ale.” Last time I looked, wine was made from grapes, not wheat, and “stout” wasn’t an adjective generally used with wine.
That’s because — in case you haven’t noticed — beer is actually a lot different than wine. Ever see anyone pour beer into a long-stemmed glass? Ever hear a middle-aged guy accused of having a “wine belly”?
But the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board sees it differently. According to the board, the fact that some bottlers produce both wine and beer is enough to decree that trademarks cover all bottlers of either beverage. The board says it’s trying to avoid customer confusion over supposedly similar products.
As if it’s somehow less confusing to have a wine labeled as “Cambria” that doesn’t come from anywhere near the actual town.
And that’s not the end of the story. It turns out that cheese is also similar enough to fall under trademark scrutiny.
In 2009, an applicant sought to trademark the name “Cambria Cheese Company,” only to run into opposition from the same Jackson firm on the grounds that the name’s “use in connection with a complementary product, namely, ‘cheese,’ would be damaging to the Opposer.”
Talk about guilt by association. The idea that wine and cheese are somehow joined at the hip has about as much holes in it as a block of Swiss. Want to sink your teeth into a tasty Reuben sandwich? You can easily do so without setting foot within 100 miles of a glass of wine. Oh, and wine goes pretty darn well with steak, fish and any number of other dishes served without cheese.
Watch out, steakhouses, seafood sellers and butcher shops. You could be next.
Talk of putting “complementary products” off limits is about as slippery a slope as you’re going to find.
If cheese is out of bounds because it’s sometimes associated with wine, does that mean mice are off limits because they’re often associated with cheese? Are pet stores in danger? Will Disney be forced to rebrand Mickey? Will we have to start referring to that handy computer accessory by another name?
It should be mentioned that Cambria’s name isn’t original to the Central Coast town. It’s also the Latin name for Wales (Cymru in Welsh), which has been around a whole lot longer than either the town or the winery. In fact, Sands, the Cambria Estate spokeswoman, said the winery owners chose the name “because it speaks to our Welsh heritage.”
The decision does not have anything to do with the Central Coast town at all.
But don’t tell that to the Cambria Beer Co.'s owners, who rejected a licensing agreement with Cambria Estate and asked on their Facebook page, “Why should we have to pay someone to use our TOWN’S name in our brewery name? Why pay out to someone else for our hard work?”
I wonder whether Prince Charles might have cause to ask the same question. Maybe the long-suffering Prince of Wales should hire an attorney and file a lawsuit of his own: against the winery, against the town of Cambria and against anyone else who happens to be using that ancient name. Against Mickey Mouse and the late Douglas Engelbart (the fellow who invented the computer mouse).
On second thought, don’t give him any ideas. Here in The Twilight Zone, he just might win.