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Big Blue Wines May Ruffle Feathers at IBM

September 1, 1988 GMT

NEW PALTZ, N.Y. (AP) _ Jack Ransom thinks his new Big Blue wine is ″user friendly,″ but his old employer - International Business Machines Corp. - isn’t so sure.

Ransom’s product has everything - and nothing - to do with IBM, which has long borne the corporate nickname Big Blue.

Ransom, who left IBM in 1969, takes obvious delight in what he calls a joking marketing strategy for wines now available in several parts of New York state where there are large concentrations of IBM workers.

″To have the audacity to put their name on a wine label gives us an enormous amount of pleasure,″ said Ransom, who worked for 16 years at IBM starting in 1953.

But IBM doesn’t seem too pleased. The company first tried to ignore it by saying it had no formal connection to the name Big Blue. This week, the giant changed its tune.

″We have some concerns, mainly because of infringement on a trademark,″ said IBM spokeswoman Rita Black at the Armonk, N.Y., headquarters. ″It’s conceivable that there may be some infringement because IBM has a product itself called Big Blue. It’s a typewriter ribbon.″

The second area of concern centers around the Big Blue label, which uses bar lettering similar to the letter style used in IBM’s corporate logo, Black said. ″That logo and its design we want to protect.″

″At this moment basically we’re looking at it. If it’s necessary we’ll take some appropriate actions,″ Black said.

″Frankly I’m surprised,″ said Ransom, who said he found the inspiration for the new label in a club of ex-IBMers that goes by the same name - Big Blue.

The club was incorporated in Texas last year by Thomas Spain of Stamford, Conn. Ransom said he got the idea after a call from Spain asking him to join the club. A small percentage of the sales is donated to the club.

″A little controversy doesn’t hurt as long as it doesn’t come to anything,″ Ransom said. ″It’s hard for me to believe that IBM could do anything.″

Both Ransom and Spain are emphatic about their love for their former employer.

″There is a strong respect and deep abiding, almost love, for IBM (in the club),″ Spain said. ″IBM is a culture and we are all products of this culture.″

While IBM isn’t impressed with Ransom’s marketing strategy, his tactics have been viewed as genius by others who say the biggest problem with New York wines is that nobody knows about them.

″I think it’s terrific,″ said James Trezise, of the New York Wine Grape Association. ″It’s an ideal example of niche marketing.″

Ransom two years ago bought the Chateau Georges winery about 80 miles north of New York City in the Hudson Valley, so it was a perfect fit for the club to have its own wine.

It went on sale this July and what began as tongue-in-cheek fun surpassed Ransom’s wildest expectations. He sold 800 cases in one month, a supply he had thought would last six months.

While he created and started a number of businesses with his own firm, Capital Structures Inc., Ransom says the only one he ever wanted to run himself is the winery, which produced 25,000 gallons of wine last year. Ransom hopes to double output this year.

Big Blue offers Compatible White, at $6.75, Interface blush, $6, and Homestead Red, at $7.50, are among 13 other premium wines Ransom’s wine company, Rivendell, is selling this year.