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Big-League French Wineries Sue Finger Lakes Firm

February 8, 1991

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) _ A dozen of France’s largest winemakers have filed suit to stop a small winery in upstate New York from putting its name on champagne bottles.

The suit in U.S. District Court in Rochester accuses the Chateau de Rheims winery in Hammondsport of trying to mislead customers that its products are from France. The suit asks the court to bar winery owner Philippe Guermonprez from using the Chateau de Rheims name on his champagnes.

Reims, France, is the heart of that country’s champagne region. Several French champagne houses use the word ″Reims,″ or its former spelling ″Rheims,″ on their labels.

″Use of the geographic appellation ‘Rheims’ for wines which are not produced in France, no less in Rheims, France, is geographically misdescriptive,″ the suit charges.

Guermonprez, a native of France, said he lives in the tiny village of Rheims next to Hammondsport, which gives him the right to call his wine Chateau de Rheims.

He said the labels on his bottles give the Hammondsport address and conform to U.S. laws. ″I have the law on my side. I will win this case,″ he said Friday.

″I am perfectly right,″ he said. ″These companies are billionaires, I don’t understand why they are attacking me - because I am a small one.″

Guermonprez said he makes about 100,000 bottles of wine and champagne each year.

The French firms include some of France’s most prestigious vintners such as Moet & Chandon Champage and G.J. Mumm & Cie. They are joined in the suit by a French association of champagne producers and this country’s National Association of Beverage Importers Inc.

Dave Gencarelli, general counsel for the importers association, said the French vintners are concerned that if Guermonprez got away with using the name Rheims, other winemakers would follow suit.

″Basically it’s a misappropriation of that name and an improper use of it,″ he said.

The suit asks the court to bar Guermonprez from using the name Chateau de Rheims and to order that all products and promotional materials using the name be destroyed.

The French companies asked for reimbursement of court costs and attorney fees, as well as damages and any profits from use of the Chateau de Rheims name.

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