It in no way stretches the definition of the word to call Walter S. Taylor a character. He has wandered the country, as he says, like "a maverick or a new Johnny Appleseed," though the object of his devotion is wine, not apples.
Equipped with a back pack, a guitar, art equipment (he paints), grape vines and samples of the Bully Hill wines he produces in upstates New York, he has walked and hitchiked across much of the United States. Acting as his own "advertising agency and public relation firm," Taylor has managed to promote sales well enough to reach 20,000 cases a year - just about what he produces.
But Walter Taylor doesn't just talk about his wines and how he makes them. At various times he has denounced the "dishonest" (although legal) practices of other winemakers, irked the industry by publishing a list of 68 chemicals not used in his wines, offended other small winemakers when he urged complete ingredient labeling (they claim it would be prohibitively expensive) and got himself read out of the Finger Lakes Wine Growers Assn. a few years back.
Now, however, Walter Taylor may have met his match in the giant Taylor Wine Co., located, as in Bully Hill, in Hammondsport, N. Y.
Two weeks ago, through the ruling of the federal district judge in Rochester, Taylor made Walter shut up, if only briefly, with a temporary injunction against his use of the Taylor name on Bully Hill Wines.
The Taylor Wines Co. is as large as Bully Hill is small. Its $60 million-a-year sales make it one of the world's largest wine organizations and its shadow grew even longer last January when it was purchased by the Coca Cola Co. To futher complicate the "big guy-little guy" antagonism, Walter Taylor's grandfather founded the company, his father was its president and Taylor himself was an officer until he was "fired" in 1970.
The suit filed by the Taylor Wine Co, in July demanded that Bully Hill Vineyards, which made its first wines in '70, not use the name Taylor "in connection with any labeling, packaging materials, advertising or promotional material..." not "infringe Taylor trademarks" or engage in acts of "unfair competition." The judge ordered just that.
On Monday another judge stayed theinjunction. Lawyers are scheduled to go into a court of appeals in New York City next Tuesday to challenge it. The case itself may not be argued for a year.
Meanwhile, Walter S. Taylor claims they are trying to take his name away from him. During the period when the injunction was in force, a spokesman said, the Bully Hill staff had to ink out more than 10 mentions of the name Taylor or Bully Hill labels, including Walter's signature. No wine was shipped, the spokeman said, although some was offered for sale at the winery.
Taylor's supporters contend the injunction has won him considerable grass-roots support in the Hammondsport area where he has not always been popular. "This is a highly personalized business." said one of them. "Walter has been making wine for some time now and they never said anything before. It's his name and it's his family. He should be able to use it."
"We were shocked" (at the injunction), said Philip Learned, one of Walter Taylor's lawyers. He claimed, as he had in the defendant's brief filed in district court, that is was unlikely that a winery producing 20,000 cases could complete with one whose production is in the millions of cases, that Bully Hill wines are more expensive and of higher quality than Taylor wines (all Bully Hill wines are vintage dated and most are estate produced and bottled), so Walter Taylor had no desire to ride the larger company's coattails; and that the Taylor Wine Co. had produced only one letter as evidence of public confusion about the producers of the two wines.
The suit was filed after Bully Hill released a new line of wines with the name "Walter S. Taylor" in large block letters above the Bully Hill label.
The president of the Talyor Wine Co., Joseph L. Swarthout, told the Elmira, N. Y. Star-Gazette that his company brought suit to protect the Taylor name. "It (the name) is just as valuable to us as our tanks or buildings," he said. "If we didn't do this we'd be neglecting an asset." He also denied that Coca-Cola. which has frequently become involved in trademark actions, was playing a part of the suit.
Walter Taylor had said earlier the new labels were used because a short harvest forced him to buy grapes elsewhere and he had made a New york State regional, rather than a Bully Hill estate, wine.
"To us, it's a case of progressive encroachment," Frank Penski, a lawyer for the Taylor Wine Co., said this week. He said the multiple use of the Taylor name and its increased prominence on the new label had prompted the suit. The company has also asked that the word "original" winery and the term "Taylor family estate" be stricken from Bully Hill labels and promotional material.
The lawyer dismissed the relative size of the wineries and any differences in quality and price as "not relevant." He said the "likelihood of consusion" was enough to justify the suit. "He (Walter Taylor) brought it about," he said. "If he is infringing, he will have to pay the consequences as a result of it.
"It's a business case," he concluded. "When people take it to a personal level they miss the point."
Perhaps the courts can ignore the personal aspects, but it is unlikely that the public will.
"This could have been reconciled easily," said Walter Taylor's lawyer. "We suggested a disclaimer on the label. But if the injunction is upheld it would have to read, . . . is in no way connected with the . . . Wine Company.' What good would that do?"