The plaintiff is Heublein, Inc., a giant international player in the wine-and-spirits market. Among its holdings is Jose Cuervo, the best-selling tequila brand in the United States.
The defendant is E. & J. Gallo, a formidable competitor. It has launched a line of margaritas in a bottle, fashioned after the well-known wine coolers. Heublein's objection? The margaritas aren't made with tequila as the primary alcohol ingredient. Instead, the "impostor" margaritas, as the company calls them, use a wine or malt base.
Heublein fears that these margaritas will confuse the public and perhaps lead people to think that margaritas can be put together with any spirit. If you sell tequila, that's not a happy prospect. (Heublein has just settled out of court with Seagram's in a similar suit.)
The Mexican government is also less than thrilled about what it terms "phony margaritas." Since Mexico exports five million cases of tequila annually, you can see why non-tequila margaritas might cause some agitation. Heublein cites a Mexican government official: "The margarita always has been associated with tequila, and any products that are labeled margaritas, yet don't contain tequila as their primary alcohol ingredient, raise serious intellectual property rights concerns."
No doubt Heublein has a case. After all, according to government regulations, a frozen pizza must have a certain percentage of cheese and sauce to be called a pizza. (Wolfgang Puck ran into trouble on this point when he tried to market one of his offbeat Spago pizzas that didn't conform to government guidelines.) Nor can you call a hot dog a hot dog unless it has a certain amount of meat. Heublein will surely argue that "margarita" has a meaning no less fixed than "pizza" or "hot dog."
On the other hand, new drink variations are always being dreamed up. Can rum manufacturers sue if Jose Cuervo decides to market a tequila-based daiquiri? Will bourbon distillers file suit against bars that pour mint juleps with rye whiskey?
I suspect we'll probably see some sort of compromise here. In fact, let's send the lawyers home now and save a few million dollars. Just call the new beverage a "wine margarita." That should make everyone reasonably happy.
Brew Crew: Another Pointe in Tyme, the featured restaurant at the Pointe Hilton on South Mountain resort, was the first place in the Valley to come up with brewmaster dinners, multicourse meals where each course is paired with a premium beer. It's a fun concept.
The chef has put together a tempting menu in honor of Saint Patrick, the patron saint of chugging. The meal gets under way with cockles steamed in Scottish Ale, accompanied by Bel Haven beer; moves on to a caesar salad teamed with Harp Lager; follows with an entree of pork loin marinated in Guinness Stout, which does double duty as the course's beverage; and ends with a beer-and-espresso ice cream with chocolate decadence and blackberry compote, washed down with Rogue Wild Irish.
The dinner will be offered twice, on Tuesday and Wednesday. Cost is $45 per person, including tax and tip. For more info, call 431-6472.--Howard Seftel