Battle of the Marsupials

Yellow Tail and Little Roo wine labels

The kangaroo and the wallaby are duking it out.

Not literally, fortunately. The conflict exists between Casella Wines, producer of Yellow Tail, and The Wine Group LLC, which makes a brand called Little Roo. Yellow Tail is suing The Wine Group for trademark infringement.

Yellow Tail was the first of the “critter labels” from Australia, and a brand that single-handedly revolutionized wine packaging (whether this was for better or worse is up to you to decide). The critter labels are supposed to be a signal to us that we shouldn’t take wine too seriously. They’ve been enormously popular with the Millenial generation, probably because they look very different from the labels on bottles of wine consumed by their parents.

The Yellow Tail label contains a colorful drawing of a kangaroo, or so we thought. Now it turns out that the animal is actually a wallaby, which is a smaller version of the kangaroo. The Little Roo label depicts the real thing, and the Yellow Tail folks are contending that no one can tell the difference between the two creatures, hence their case for trademark infringement.

As silly as this may sound, the stakes are high. Yellow Tail is the most popular imported wine in America, selling more than 8 million cases annually. It sells for about $8; Little Roo is cheaper. I haven’t tried Little Roo, but the last time I tasted Yellow Tail it was dreadful—pumped up with residual sugar, and bearing little resemblance to wine as most people know it.

Can mistaking a kangaroo for a wallaby change your wine purchase? Possibly. What’s interesting here is that virtually every bottle of Bordeaux wine has a line drawing of a chateau on the label, and no one has ever suggested that such an image can be trademarked. What’s really interesting about this case is that everyone seems far more concerned with the packaging than with the contents of the bottle.

The real confusion here is between being serious about wine (in terms of quality) and taking ourselves too seriously. Wouldn’t it be nice if we stopped mixing up the two?

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