Robert Mondavi Winery has strenuously refuted claims it fraudulently obtained the To-Kalon trademark, as a lawsuit against the eminent California producer alleges.

In November this year, Mondavi filed a suit against its Oakville neighbour Schrader Cellars, demanding it stop using the To-Kalon name on its front label. Schrader wines contain grapes sourced from To-Kalon vineyards owned by Beckstoffer Vineyards since 1993, but Mondavi trademarked the To-Kalon name in 1988 and 1994.

Now Schrader and Beckstoffer have responded with a counterclaim – that Mondavi has misled the public by expanding the historic To-Kalon vineyard, and that Mondavi told the US Trademark Office that the To-Kalon name had no significance within the wine industry.

In fact the opposite has been true for over 100 years, the counterclaim says. Grapes from the vineyard, planted by Hamilton W Crabb in 1868, won awards before Prohibition. ‘The historical importance of the To-Kalon vineyard is well-known and thoroughly documented,’ a statement from Schrader and Beckstoffer says.

The counterclaimants argue that although Mondavi downplayed the significance of the name when it was applying for a trademark, when Mondavi was lobbying for Oakville to be named an AVA (American Viticultural Area), it ‘repeatedly emphasised the historical importance of the To-Kalon vineyard.’

They also argue that Mondavi gives the impression that the entire 223ha vineyard – which all comes under the To-Kalon name – was originally planted in the 1800s by Crabb. In fact, Mondavi owns only 100ha that was originally part of Crabb’s vineyard. This is ‘false and misleading’ the statement says.

Robert Mondavi Winery refutes the allegations, calling Beckstoffer’s arguments ‘flawed’.

‘We are not limited to the use of the name by the boundries of Crabb’s acreage and are proud to have extended the original estate with directly adjoining property,’ a statement sent to decanter.com says.

It adds that Beckstoffer benefits from its association with To-Kalon, a name that would have no resonance had Robert Mondavi not made it famous.

‘We’re quite certain that he would not have the desire to use the To-Kalon name had we not made it synonymous with Robert Mondavi Winery and outstanding wine,’ the statement says.

Andrew Beckstoffer said, ‘It is regrettable that this whole issue has come up, but it is important. The historical integrity of the Napa Valley and its sense of place are at risk, so this must be addressed.’

Written by Adam Lechmere27 December 2002