Who Owns The Reputation of a Wine Region?
Steve Heimoff recently wrote about the controversy over ICANN, one of the organizing bodies of the Internet, and their intent to issue a .Wine and .Vin web domain for use. These two new domain names will be issued along with hundreds of others such as .Art, .Blog, .Auto, etc. A number of countries as well as regional wine associations oppose the issuance of .Wine and .Vin.
Recently a variety of regional wine associations including those representing wineries in Napa Valley, Willamette Valley, Oregon, Walla Walla and others issued a statement strongly condemning the issuance of the .Wine and .Vine domains. The reasons they gave in their press release went thusly:
“non-existent to grossly insufficient safeguards from illegitimate companies hijacking the history of fine winemaking in America and the rigorous, multi-generational efforts that have gone into creating, promoting and protecting quality winemaking regions across the country.”
“If granted to unscrupulous bidders, second-level domain names such as napavalley.wine or wallawalla.wine could be held in perpetuity by a company or individual that has never seen a vineyard, cultivated fine wine grapes or made a single bottle of wine.”
“Fine wine consumers could be deceived into believing that they are visiting a website associated with a genuine product exhibiting the specific qualities and unique characteristics of a growing region, when they are in fact being influenced by an imitator who happened to be the highest bidder for that particular domain name.”
As Steve Heimoff wrote, it’s a “Sticky Wicket”.
Now, I understand the problem with someone not associated with the real companies using the .Wine domain to register something like “Robertmondavi.wine” or “Chateaustmichelle.wine “or “fermentationwineblog.wine”. What I don’t see as a problem worthy of scuttling the .Wine or .Vin domains is someone registering “NapaValleyWine.Wine” or “OregonWineries.Wine” or “WallaWallaWineCountry.Wine and doing with them whatever they choose.
The reputation and the history of a wine region belongs to no one. While I can understand why the folks in the Willamette Valley might be opposed to someone registering “WillametteValleyWine.Wine” they spending countless hours publishing information that amounted to “Willamette Valley wines really suck and their terroir is terrible”, there really ought not be anything to stop a person from doing this. And this is what the collection of regional wine associations that came out against .Wine and .Vin are worried about happening.
Furthermore, registering the URL “NapaValleyWineries.Wine” and holding on to it in perpetuity by a Pepsi-drinking, wine hating gal from Sweden isn’t against the law either, nor should it be. The .Wine domain has no business being reserved for use by people who have the kind of wine knowledge deemed appropriate by someone.
Finally, if any website with a .Wine suffix is trying to sell wine by identifying it from a region that it does not originate from, that website won’t stay in business very long. But you don’t scuttle the .Wine or .Vin domains because of this possibility.
Keep in mind any of dishonest things the regional wine associations worry about happening upon the issuance of the .Wine and .Vin domains could just as easily happen with the .Art, .Blog, .Auto or any other domain. The potential for dishonesty in the realm of the online wine world does not begin and end with the .Wine and .Vin domains.
In the end the problem is that no one can trademark “Napa Valley” or “Walla Walla” or “Willamette Valley”. Were this possible, then the trademark holder would have the right to protest the issuance of a NapaValleywine.Wine URL. As mentioned before, no one owns the history, the legacy, the reputation or the name of a wine region.