The Taylor Wine Company has temporarily suspended its controversial comparative ads for California Cellars wines.
The action was taken after a recent meeting with the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).Attorneys for the company, which is owned by Coca-Cola were told that the Robert Maxwell acting deputy assistant director of the bureau said Taylor was informed that ATF is "contemplating issuing a show cause order on why their permit should not be suspended or revoked."
Taylor's newspaper and television advertisements feature the results of a wine tasting in which the company's California Cellars wines were judged superior to wines made by Inglenook, Almaden, Sebastiani and Mondavi. The ads are the first in which competitors are named in a comparative wine tasting.
When the ads appeared five weeks ago, wine experts raised some questions about the accuracy of the claims. Some of these questions appear to be among the eight points raised with Taylor by ATF:
Is Taylor comparing wines of similar price? In several markets, including Washington, California Cellars wines cost 30 to 60 cents more per bottle than the competitors.
Were the competitors' wines of equal quality at the tasting? Taylor had control of its wines until they were tasted because they were selected from the company's warehouse. The competitors' wines were purchased at retail and there was no way of knowing whether or not they had been mishandled prior to purchase.
In its letter to ATF, Taylor said it had suspended the ads "in a spirit of cooperation" but does not admit " . . . that is advertising violates the federal alcohol administration act."
Taylor said it will respond to the questions raised by ATF tomorrow. It said the suspension action was temporary.
According to Maxwell, "it could be that Taylor could reasonably explain away issues we raised with them, but if we still feel the ads are false or misleading we have to take action based on the fact that the ads had been running for 40 days."