Opened in 2012, the tiny Cambria Beer Co. is located in the equally small town of Cambria, described more as a “seaside village,” boasting about 6,000 residents. It’s located along Highway 1, in San Luis Obispo County, midway between San Francisco and L.A.
The brewery uses a small 3bbl brew sculpture system, and operates a small tap room on Cornwall Street. They offer a wide variety of beer styles, continually rotating. A recent list included five on, with two in the fermenters and three more scheduled right behind those. Beers sell out quickly, but they try to keep up. Owners Aaron and Jennifer Wharton decided that since they were the only brewery in town, that Cambria Beer Company was the right name for their decidedly local enterprise.
Not everyone agreed. The Jackson Family Farms is best known for Kendall-Jackson wine, but that’s just one of the more than a dozen wineries that they own. Another one of their labels is Cambria Estate Winery. So you’re probably thinking that makes sense, probably located right down the street. Nope. To get to the Cambria Estate Winery from the brewery, you’ll need to head south on Highway 1, then pick up Interstate 101 at the junction in San Luis Obispo. Drive south to Santa Maria, turn left in downtown and drive west out of town to the winery. All told, it will take you about one hour and twenty minutes to get there, because it’s nearly 80 miles away outside the town of Santa Maria, which is even in a different county (Santa Barbara County), too.
I first saw this on Grub Street, but the local newspaper, The Cambrian, naturally has the most complete account in When is Cambria not in Cambria? Apparently, the Whartons have been trying to negotiate to keep their name since they received the C&D letter from KJ’s lawyers on New Year’s Eve.
Unfortunately, as I understand it, when it comes to trademark law, alcohol is alcohol; they’re in the same class of goods as far as trademark is concerned. This is hardly the first time this has happened. Another small brewery in the Bay Area had to add a letter to their name because a spirits company was using the original spelling. A San Francisco brewery not long ago had to change the name of one of its beers, because there was a rum of the same name.
So there is some precedent here, it’s not totally out of left field. The Cambrian author wonders if every business in Cambria using Cambria in their name should be worried, rightly concluding no. But the fact that the winery is so far from the town and they serve largely a different demographic makes it not so cut and dry. A commenter on Reddit who claimed to be close to the parties involved mentioned that the brewery’s attorneys believed they had a strong case, but the $50,000 (minimum) price tag to fight it was too much for them, as it would be for almost any small company. So the brewery did what most people would in this situation, and decided to change their name. Last week, they posted that decision on their Facebook page, asking fans and customers to help them come up with a new name by leaving a comment. They’ve had a lot of suggestions so far, including several funny ones.
I’m starting to think that trademark law may need some modification. Clearly, alcohol is not alcohol anymore. Maybe there was a time when that made sense, but I think most of us can agree that we can tell the difference between beer and wine. And it seems to me geographic truth should trump whatever reason this winery is using a name that has nothing to do with where it’s located. I seem to recall another trademark case where the Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) sued Boston Beer Works and lost, the court ruling that “Boston” was too generic a term, ditto “beer.” Komlossy Law has a nice overview of the case, if you’re interested in learning more. And those were both beer companies, so it does seem like Cambria Beer might have had a decent shot at keeping their name. Still, you have to understand not wanting to spend a fortune going to court on an uncertain result. As we learned in “War Games,” sometimes “the only winning move is not to play.” If nothing else, I hope we can all support whatever new name they decide on and stop by and spend our money there the next time we drive by on our way to or from Los Angeles or the Bay Area. Success is always the best revenge.
john foster says
companies always OVER react to trademark C&Ds. the defense of them does not have to cost ANYTHING. make the company seeking infringement do all the work. in this case, and I copy paste from some a previous source of my own: “Most state commercial codes allow for “defense on obvious merits”. Minimizes costs. Commercial ‘nolo’ carve-outs EXACTLY for nuisance suits. Def. essentially “case w/o merit” & have minimal rep/disc. obligations. nobody would EVER confuse this with an energy drink. Monster has NO CASE w/ distribution conflict and product issues. They can file ‘nolo’ at every hearing.”
essentially this is “we’ll let the court decide. and YOU get to pay. at the end if YOU are wrong we get to keep our name. and if you WiN then okay you got the name. and we’re okay with that.”
Alec Moss says
Alaskan Brewing is Alaskan instead of Chinook because of a winery.
One of my favorite compromises was when Bridgeport and Mendocino were both brewing Blue Heron. I believe Mendocino’s Blue Heron Pale Ale was the first use of the name and they allowed Bridgeport to use the Blue Heron name but only in Oregon. A truly sensible decision. Mendocino still brews Blue Heron but I don’t think Bridgeport does.
Notice how Ballast Point’s Pale Ale is just called “Pale Ale”, and not the name of some fish or is otherwise nautically-themed like the rest of their beers?
The folks who make Yellow Tail wines (Two words, not one! Brand name vs. product name!) made ’em cease and desist.
Ridiculous. Or should I say equally ridiculous.
Jay Brooks says
Oh, yeah. I’d forgotten about that one. Sheesh.
We’re getting one from Gallo for. Their “Barefoot” wines, all based on a single pub only beer called barefoot brew. Citing that it’s confusing to customers,.,, seriously?!?!?
And there was the one the other day where some small brewpub in (I think) CT compromised with Anchor. The pub was calling itself “Coast Steam” – Anchor OK’d the change to “COASTSTEAM”. One word instead of 2; same message, & everyone’s happy.
Fully agree w/Jay that TM laws should be rewritten – TM’s should only appply within specific subcategories of a genre – so one/each of booze, wine, & beer could use the same name. “Cambria Estates” certainly IS NOT “Cambria”.
Remember when Mickey D’s was sending C&D’s to every business called Mc(Anything)’s, even when they weren’t selling burgers? All the big companies should be ashamed of themselves for being so pollocaca!