Virginia Distillery Company

Virginia Distillery Company labels adorn bottles at the Virginia Distillery Company on July 16, 2018 in Lovingston, Va. 

Virginia Distillery Company in Lovingston is in the midst of a legal battle after a lawsuit was filed against it last week.

On July 8, the Scotch Whisky Association filed a lawsuit against the distillery over what it claims to be a “false, misleading, and deceptive labelling of whisky advertised and sold by Virginia Distillery under the brand name “Virginia-Highland Whisky,” according to the lawsuit.

The case was filed with the United States District Court for the District of Delaware. The SWA argues the use of the term “highland” in the company’s Virginia-Highland Whisky and combining it with the word “whisky” leads consumers to believe it’s Scotch Whisky.

According to the lawsuit filed, “scotch whisky” is a specific label for whisky produced in Scotland and “Highland” is one of the five protected localities and regions of Scotch Whisky production. The SWA argues the labeling of VDC’s series “Virginia-Highland Whisky” intentionally misleads consumers for profit.

“Despite the fact that United States regulations preclude the use of the word 'Highland' or 'Scotch' on a whisky that is not wholly produced in Scotland, and that Scotch Whisky must be made entirely in Scotland, Virginia Distillery’s labelling uses the words 'Highland' and 'Scotch' prominently to evoke an improper association with Scotland in order to more effectively promote and sell its products. Indeed, Defendant’s labelling of its products intentionally misidentifies the true geographic origin of its products in an effort to trade on the good will and prestige associated with Scotch Whisky,” a section of the lawsuit read.

Benjamin Chapple, counsel for the SWA, said he could not comment on anything regarding the lawsuit and could only provide the statement given to him by the SWA. The statement from the SWA said the company works to protect the intellectual property of Scotch whisky and consistently takes action across the globe, which is vital to protecting Scotland’s national drink.

“These proceedings were not taken lightly, but only after more than 12 months of attempts by the SWA to resolve this issue privately with the company in question. The association would still welcome a resolution of the matter without the need for federal court involvement,” the statement said.

VDC disagrees with the stance and in a statement emailed on July 9 said the company stands by its product and the label.

“Our independent distillery launched the Virginia-Highland Whisky series over three years ago. Our production process pays tribute to both old world and new world techniques while taking advantage of our location and the climate provided by Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Our label clearly indicates the source of our whisky, stating 'Whisky from Scotland, Married with Virginia Whisky,' and we have always been upfront in descriptions to our customers,” CEO of VDC Gareth Moore said in a statement.

Moore’s statement went on to defend the company, saying the company took every precaution when producing and labeling this whiskey series so that they met the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau regulations, as well as an additional inquiry from the SWA and stated they have been transparent through the whole process.

“As the largest independently owned American Single Malt distillery in the U.S. with the capacity to make over 120,000 9L cases of ultra-premium American Single Malt whisky per year, we’re proud of our role in growing and championing the American Single Malt category. We plan to continue our expansion of the Virginia-Highland Whisky series line across the U.S. and look forward to the upcoming release of our Courage & Conviction American Single Malt line,” Moore’s statement said.

The SWA asked that the court see to it the VDC is barred from using the terms “scotch” or “highland” in conjunction with a whiskey product, “unless that product’s sole alcoholic constituent is Scotch Whisky” and would like all the products they feel are misleading to be recalled at the expense of VDC.

According to VDC, next steps are still being determined as far as an actual court date being set.

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Erin Conway covers Nelson County for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5524.

Erin Conway covers Nelson County. Reach her at (434) 385-5524 or econway@newsadvance.com.

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