The Fight For Wallcliffe

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There’s a long history of French wine interests heavying smaller competitors in this country. Who could forget Veuve Clicquot strong-arming Stefano Lubiana over the colour yellow on his sparkling wine label?

More recently, another Champagne house G.H. Mumm (tastings) succeeded in getting d’Arenberg to drop the name Dadd off its sparkling wine (tastings). Lawyers have no sense of humour, evidently.

So when it emerged that Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy-owned Cape Mentelle Vineyards (tastings) was threatening Margaret River boutique Flametree (tastings) over its use of the name Wallcliffe on some of its labels, the local indignation was palpable. Even Vanya Cullen let fly with a defence of the right of other wineries to use what she said was a sub-regional name in use well before Cape Mentelle put it on a label.

But the other side has a pretty strong case, and even Cape Mentelle founder David Hohnen has thrown his support behind Cape Mentelle’s manager and chief winemaker Rob Mann.

David Hohnen’s father, John, first bought land in the region in 1965 – a property named Wallcliffe Farm. The first plantings at Cape Mentelle were in 1970, and the original vineyard, in front of the winery, has been known as the Wallcliffe vineyard (pictured above) since the ‘70s. The vineyard and winery are accessed from Wallcliffe Road. The second early use of the name comes from Wallcliffe House, which was owned by another member of the Hohnen family.

David Hohnen applied to register the name Wallcliffe in 1999 and the trademark was granted in 2000. The first sauvignon blanc semillon named Wallcliffe was the ’99 vintage. It continues today.

As for the sub-region: the ‘architect’ of Margaret River’s wine region, Dr John Gladstones, suggested Wallcliffe as a sub-region name along with five others, but none have ever been registered, and indeed, the region’s winemakers’ association has voted not to pursue sub-regions for the time being.

Flametree has been using the Wallcliffe name on its SRS (sub-regional series) chardonnay in recent years. Flametree’s Cliff Royle has agreed to stop using the name, but he and others object to Cape Mentelle ‘owning’ the name Wallcliffe.

The horse has well and truly bolted in this case. But it would be good if, in future, geographical names were disallowed as winery names, and allowed as wine names only if they were available to everyone. Cape Mentelle itself is such a name, as is the Leeuwin of Leeuwin Estate (tastings), RedgatePreveli (tastings) and Cowaramup Wines (tastings). In this, the Yarra Valley is the worst offender, with Yarra This and Yarra That – even with wines made from non-Yarra Valley grapes!

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