Wine connoisseurs have been pairing food with their wines for  centuries (okay, I’m guessing here, but it is probably a long time), paying close attention to all of the subtleties of the flavor, hints of oak, acidity, and other features. With the explosion of craft beers in the United States, we can now do the same with our ales and lagers too. Still though, it always seemed like I never received a full dining experience. No matter how nice the wine or how delicious the food, I still had that same, plain old water. No longer thanks to the folks at Beverly Water:

This is Beverly Hills 90H20.

According to their website, it is “The World’s First Sommelier-Crafted Water. Pristine spring water from the Northern California Mountains is crafted with a perfect balance of natural minerals, resulting in a 7.5 pH alkalinity and a silky smooth, incredibly crisp, exceptionally fresh taste profile. These extraordinarily unique characteristics make Beverly Hills 9OH2O the first ever water to perfectly pair with fine food, wine, and spirits.”

Beverly Water believes it has created the best water in the world. So good, in fact, that it has promoted the water as “the Champagne of Water.” Unsurprisingly, a certain group of winemakers in France took issue with the use of this phrase. The Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) contacted Beverly Water requesting that they cease use of the phrase. Beverly Water apparently complied. (Note, the article asks why the CIVC ignores Miller High Life’s use of the Champagne of Beers, but goes on to answer its own question by reference to the more than 60 year old federal registration for the mark).

The CIVC has a long history of enforcing its rights against third-parties. They have fought a long battle to ensure that “sparkling wine” and “champagne” are not synonyms. As the CIVC proclaims in bold, capital letters at the top of its website, “Champagne only comes from Champagne, France.” The website also discusses the numerous legal victories it has obtained against a wide range of products including candy, water, soda pop, cigarettes, shoes, perfume, and even a toilet brush.

Not only does the CIVC go after uses of the word champagne itself, it enforces its rights against use of the word to describe the color of a product. When rumors of a new yellow iPhone circulated on the internet, some describing it as a “champagne colored iPhone,” the CIVC sent a preemptive strike to Apple. The group stated that “Champagne doesn’t have one single colour, so we can’t say that a ‘Champagne’ colour exists. Therefore, any company wanting to use the name ‘Champagne’ would be doing so only to attract all the benefits that surround the label.”

Of course, my friend Mr. Webster would disagree with the CIVC on this point. The second listing for champagne (yes, lower case) is “a pale orange yellow to light grayish-yellowish brown.” While other dictionaries may disagree as to whether the color is yellowish-grayish or grayish-yellowish, they still define “champagne” as a color.

It also doesn’t help that the Collins English dictionary includes a definition of champagne as “denoting a luxurious lifestyle; a champagne capitalist.” And really, this is the exact issue with Beverly Water and the numerous other uses of “The Champagne of _____.” Champagne has entered the English language as a word which connotes things other than sparkling wine from a specific region in France. On the one hand, it is a symbol of superiority, i.e. The Champagne of Water. It means it is the best. It also connotes luxury, as in, a champagne lifestyle. But what happens when a term becomes so widely used to mean “quality,” but not necessarily to denote high quality? Especially in reference to non-competitve, unrelated products?

The issues are similar to those in Ritz Hotel Ltd v. Ritz Closet Seat Corp., 17 USPQ 2d 1466 (TTAB 1990). There the Ritz Hotel opposed a small company’s application to register the RIT-Z mark for use with toilet seats. Despite finding the RITZ mark famous, the Board ultimately found no likelihood of confusion, reasoning:

This is a word which, although originating from references to the Ritz Hotel, has entered the English language and is commonly used as a slang term to mean “swanky, elegant; posh …” It appears in The Random House Dictionary (1987) as “ritz n. 1. ostentatious or pretentious display. 2. put on the ritz, Informal. to live in elegance and luxury, esp. to make an ostentatious show of one’s wealth: … v.t. 3. slang. to treat with condescension; snub: … [1925-30 after the sumptuous hotels founded by Cesar Ritz (d. 1918), Swiss entrepreneur]”. The acceptance of the term as a part of the English language may account for the fact that the term “Ritz” has been widely adopted for trademarks in a number of areas as illustrated by the third-party registrations submitted by applicant.

The CIVC has done an admirable job enforcing its rights thus far. They have had tremendous success abroad, where controlled designation of origin laws seem to be enforced more stringently than in the U.S., for wines, beers, and cheeses. However given the continued acceptance of “champagne” as both a word meaning “luxurious,” and as a color descriptor, it seems like only a matter of time before these issues bubble over. If that happens, the CIVC may have to deal with a major headache.

  • stevebaird

    Tim, very nice and very entertaining piece, cheers!