A PDO for Sussex Sparkling? And who owns the trademark?


A PDO for Sussex Sparkling? And who owns the trademark?

english sparkling wine

An interesting story is brewing in the world of English sparkling wine. Victoria Moore reports on it here in The Telegraph, and pretty much nails it.

So a coalition of Sussex wineries – Rathfinny, Ridgeview, Bolney – are applying for a PDO (protected designation of origin). This is an official EU designation for quality products that are linked to a certain place. Think  Melton Mowbray pork pies, Cheddar cheese, Jersey Royal potatoes. They want ‘Sussex Sparkling’ to be recognized in a similar way.

For those who like rules, these are the existing protected names. There’s PDO status for ‘English’ wine (see the rules here) and ‘Welsh’ wine; and there’s also the PGI (protected geographic origin) for ‘English Regional’  and ‘Welsh Regional’ wine (see rules here). In addition, there’s an English/Welsh quality sparkling wine PDO (rules here). The idea is that wines with these status marks will have passed basic quality tests and be authentic products.

The idea for the Sussex Sparkling PDO? Stricter rules on production than currently exist, and a nice marketable term because tighter geographic origin implies higher quality.

As Victoria points out, there’s a big problem here. Sussex is an administrative/political area with boundaries that aren’t determined by soil type. And for sparkling wine production, soil type is all important. Climate is too: but those climates where you can successfully ripen grapes in the south of England tend to be relatively similar, with the big difference being the soil. So sparkling wines from Sussex won’t all share similar characteristics. A sparkling wine from Sussex grown on chalky soils will likely taste more similar to a sparkling wine grown in Hampshire on chalky soils than to a Sussex wine grown on Greensand.

Also, Rathfinny, one of the producers pressing for this PDO, haven’t yet released a wine. It seems a little premature.

Also, Nyetimber, Sussex’ most famous winery, have some significant vineyards outside the county, so they couldn’t be included, even though (many people think) they make the UK’s best sparkling wines.

But there’s also another factor that no one has yet reported on. A quick search of trademarks for ‘Sussex Sparkling’ reveal that Rathfinny trademarked the term in April 2012 (application was filed in November 2011). A PDO that’s also the trademark of a single producer? This is concerning from a legal standpoint: effectively, Rathfinny could then decide who gets to use the PDO.

7 Comments on A PDO for Sussex Sparkling? And who owns the trademark?Tagged
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7 thoughts on “A PDO for Sussex Sparkling? And who owns the trademark?

  1. Nice one. Thats exactly the question I asked at the first meeting and the answer I got was that Rathfinny -“was so kind to” – trademarked that name for the sake of all Sussex producers. I am glad there are still samaritans out there.

  2. Hi Jamie

    If a PDO is accepted then it takes precedence over the trademark. One of the attractions of a PDO is that it provides the highest level of IP protection. If the TM was filed after the EU Wine reforms, it has little merit, but if filed before the cut off date, then the Trademark holder can continue to use the TM, rather than the PDO, but cant stop the PDO. The mystery is that a TM can not be granted for a geographically delineated area, unless it is preposterous that the product could be produced there. E.g. You can trademark something like ‘London Coffee’, but not ‘Brazil coffee’. A Sussex trademark would not be granted by the UKIPO, but it appears this is an EU one and of course, they probably have no idea that they make wine in Sussex!

  3. I’m glad you’ve blogged about this Jamie. As a SEVA committee member and potential new entrant to the market, I’m supportive of new initiatives that might benefit wine producers and the industry generally. But there are definite downsides to having a PDO whether it be ‘Sussex Sparkling’ or ‘Sussex’ as applied to all wines, still and sparkling. Look at the case of Champagne Jane! If it goes through could I be sued if I start calling myself ‘Sussex Kristina’? On the serious side, producers will not be able to say that their wines are from Sussex if they don’t meet PDO standards and it could stifle innovation in terms of what grapes are grown in Sussex and the wines made. It is still a very young industry. Re the TM, my understanding is that the prior TM holder doesn’t have to comply with PDO standards which could undermine the PDO and doesn’t create a level playing field. I agree with Bob about the doubtful legitimacy of the TM. You can search for TMs online with the IPO and it is interesting that someone (an individual from Lewes) has tried to register ‘Sussex’ for wine but the application was withdrawn. These TM issues are all matters of public record. Clearly, there are often genuine business reasons why a person registers a TM ahead of selling anything.

  4. Mark Driver, owner of Rathfinny, has responded to me – ‘We have registered a trademark for Sussex Sparkling, the reason is that until the PDO is granted, which could take two years, it gives us some protection against imitations. And yes the trademark will be transferred into the new management company that will control the PDO.’

    I’m meeting him on Wednesday.

  5. I’ve experienced English Sparkling industry a couple of vintages ago.
    It has been a remarkable one, as being part of a pioneering and booming wine region within Old Europe was a unexpected satisfying feeling.

    For this reason, there is no need to bound unleashed potential by the tight law suit.
    We Continental Europeans had to fight against frauds and that’s the unlucky reason behind restrictions and monkey laws, that don’t boost really quality.
    Let’s be creative on a open winemaker playground, before we confine us again in standards as percentage of admitted varieties, extensions and vineyard classification etc etc.

  6. I’m a year late to this one but its popped us as part of research for my Diploma studies… As a trade mark lawyer I can pretty confidently say that Rathfinny would struggle to enforce a trade mark for “Sussex Sparkling”. There is very little point in having a trade mark unless you can enforce it and a trade mark that is descriptive of the goods it seeks to protect i.e. Sussex Sparkling for sparkling wine from Sussex would fail in Court. What is concerning though is that, whilst a PDO entitles multiple companies or entities to benefit from protection, a trade mark registration is limited to its owner unless specifically licensed. If I was Nyetimber, bearing in mind my inability to benefit from a PDO I’d want something in writing regarding shared use of the trade mark or I’d apply to invalidate it.

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