Counterfeit Wines Leave Bad Taste for Chicago Trademark Lawyer

By Mark Partridge

One of my hobbies is wine tasting. So it’s no surprise that an article from the Wall Street Journal recently grabbed my attention. It said: “U.S. Investigates Counterfeiting of Rare Wines.”

The very idea assaults the senses.

According to the article, the targets of the counterfeiters include France’s great Chateau Mouton Rothschild. How distasteful!

Chateau Mouton, of course, enjoys an exalted and well earned reputation as one of the great Bordeaux wines of France. In The World Atlas of Wine, the historian, Hugh Johnson, describes the wines of the region this way:

“. . . a combination of fresh soft-fruit, oak, dryness, subtlety combined with substance, a touch of cigar-box, a suggestion of sweetness and, above all, vigor.”

Chateau Mouton elevates these characteristics to Olympian heights. Mr. Johnson sings its praise. Close your eyes and imagine. According to Johnson the wine is:

“. . . strong, dark, full of the savour of ripe black currants. Given the ten or often even 20 years they need to mature, these wines reach into realms of perfection where they are rarely followed. But millionaires tend to be impatient: too much is drunk far too young.”

Can you taste it?

Chateau Mouton also feeds the eyes with its artistic labels. Since 1945 the beauty of the wine has been enhanced with the designs of famous artists of the day, Picasso, Warhol, Miro, Kadinsky, to name only a few.

I received my first bottle of Mouton from my father when I graduated from college, a 1970 with a Chagall label, a simple line drawing enhanced with pink, yellow and blue. It was quite a change from our usual house wine today: Two Buck Chuck from Trader Joes.

I think about that bottle of Mouton when I read about counterfeit wine. Imagine the anticipation upon opening the bottle, the expectation of cherries, raspberries, black currants, only to discover . . . what? The smell of dirty gym socks, perhaps, or moldy cheese? Who knows.

And who knows where it’s from.

That thought leads me back to my role as a trademark lawyer. Dealing with trademarks may sound rather genteel, well removed from jail cells and guns. But not always so.

As trademark lawyers, we learn that counterfeiting involves more than wine or fifty dollar bills. Sometimes it involves Pine-Sol, at least my first counterfeiting case did. In the late 80s, customer complaints caused our client to discover that phony Pine-Sol was on sale in Chicago. The chase was on.

A counterfeiting case proceeds without notice to the sellers. Armed with a court order and accompanied by U.S. Marshals and our private investigators, we invaded a series of small south-side Chicago stores like Elliot Ness after Al Capone.

I can picture the uncooperative store owner made compliant when the Marshall took him aside to introduce his friends Smith and Wesson.

I can hear the violent barking of the mangy mutts left behind to guard the abandon dentist’s office on South Ashland Avenue where the counterfeits were filled.

I can see the barrels of chemicals, iridescent yellow beneath the glow of a bare bulb pulling electricity from a cord extended to an outside outlet behind a neighboring building.

I can smell the sharp pungent odor of the pine tar used to turn these caustic chemicals into ersatz Pine-Sol.

Mostly I can feel the anger rising in me when I learn from the lab report that kids accidentally drinking the counterfeit Pine-Sol could die or go blind. And I can feel the relief when the counterfeiter, Mr. Banda, was arrested and jailed after selling more of the stuff to stores in Detroit.

I think about all this when I contemplate the counterfeit Mouton, brewed perhaps in a back alley in France, a place where the light from a street lamp glistens on wet cobble stones, small bistros fill the air with the smells of butter, onion and garlic, and a small man smoking a Gaulois cigarette funnels Two Buck Chuck into bottles bearing copies of labels drawn by Salvadore Dali.

Chateau Mouton 1958.

And I wonder: will Hugh Johnson’s impatient millionaires taste the difference?

Author, speaker and attorney Mark V.B. Partridge is an internationally recognized expert in intellectual property. For more information, visit


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