Duck Commander Accused of Trademark Infringement Over Wine Brand

A California winemaker is suing Duck Commander Inc., the company owned by the Robertson family of A&E's "Duck Dynasty," for trademark infringement over the new line of Duck Commander wines.

Duckhorn Wine Company, located in St. Helena, Calif., is also suing Sutter Home Winery Inc., doing business as Trinchero Family Estates, and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. over the use of the name "Duck Commander" and duck-themed wine labels.

"Duckhorn's brand and trademarks are very important to our ongoing business and reputation, and their validity has been repeatedly established legally," a statement from Duckhorn reads. "We have made several attempts to engage Trinchero Family Estates and Duck Commander in discussions to reach an amicable resolution to their infringement of our trademarks, yet neither company has responded, nor suggested any possible solutions.

It continues: "We proposed several simple compromises that allowed for both brands to coexist in a way that would eliminate the possibility of any marketplace confusion on wine lists or on retail shelves. The case for confusion or dilution is compelling and concerning, given that many key U.S. retailers shelve wines alphabetically, meaning that Decoy by Duckhorn, Duck Commander and Duckhorn Vineyards wines could be placed side by side. Duck Commander wines are also produced in our hometown of St. Helena (as indicated on their bottle) causing further potential confusion.

"We are very disappointed that Trinchero Family Estates and Duck Commander were unwilling to engage in reasonable and constructive dialogue, and as a result, we had no choice but to stand up and protect our brand – a brand that Dan & Margaret Duckhorn have nurtured since 1976."

A Trinchero spokesperson told CP via email that the company could not comment on pending litigation, and a spokesperson for the public relations firm that works with the Robertson family said the same.

The lawsuit, filed Nov. 27, 2013, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, says Duckhorn and Trinchero leaders met to discuss the matter in early November, though nothing was resolved. Several weeks later, Duckhorn sent a cease and desist letter to Trinchero, threatening to sue.

Attorneys for Trinchero and Duck Commander responded two days later in a letter of their own, calling Duckhorn's demands "overreaching and unsupported."

"Duckhorn's ownership of the DUCKHORN mark for wine does not provide Duckhorn with a monopoly on the word 'DUCK' as to wine," they wrote. They also pointed out that there are a number of other organizations that use the word "duck" in part of their trademark for wine and other alcoholic beverages.

Duck Commander wines are also targeting a different consumer segment than Duckhorn wines, they argue. The new wine brand is being marketed toward "Duck Dynasty" fans and is being sold at Wal-Mart stores, the letter states, while Duckhorn targets those in the "premium wine market."

Duck Commander wines are primarily sold at Wal-Mart and retail for about $10 per bottle, though the suit claims Trinchero and Duck Commander plan to expand to other retail outlets beginning sometime this month. The first vintage of Duck Commander wines includes Triple Threat 2011 Red Blend, Miss Priss 2012 Pink Moscato and Wood Duck 2012 Chardonnay.

"We decided to create Duck Commander Robertson Family wines because we know that many of our customers and our viewers choose to celebrate family moments with wine," Duck Commander CEO Willie Robertson previously said in a statement. "We knew we needed to find a family company in the heart of wine country that could produce authentic, quality wines. The Trinchero family is the right fit, and the wines are delicious."

The announcement of Duck Commander's partnership with Trinchero sparked controversy last fall when a Tennessee-based ministry canceled a fundraiser at which Robertson was scheduled to speak. The event would have helped raise money for Free Will Baptist Family Ministries, which works with at-risk youth, but organizers canceled it after learning of the wine deal over concern that Robertson's appearance would send "mixed messages" to those enrolled in the ministry's Adolescent Drug and Alcohol program.

The Robertsons are outspoken Christians who have shared their faith through books, at conferences, in interviews and on their hit television show, which brought in a record-breaking 11.8 million viewers in its season four premiere. The fifth season of "Duck Dynasty" premieres Wednesday, Jan. 15.

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