May 10, 2015 – Chatham Imports, the owner of Michter’s, has filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the investor group hoping to revive the old Bomberger’s Distillery in Pennsylvania that originally produced the Michter’s whiskies. The group, led by Marc Reber, Eric Wolfe and Avianna Wolfe, has the support of former master distiller Dick Stoll, who oversaw distilling at the Lebanon County distillery at the time it closed in 1989. Chatham later acquired the Michter’s intellectual property rights and began producing whiskey in Kentucky under the Michter’s brand name.
The lawsuit comes after dueling “cease and desist” letters between the two companies claiming rights to the Bomberger’s name. In a telephone interview, Avianna Wolfe said the Pennsylvania group filed for a trademark on “Bomberger’s Distillery” in 2012. “Really, what’s happening is unfortunately, a case of trademark bullying,” she said, noting that their first product did not reach the market for two years. “Probably because of (our) naiveté and really not understanding the legal system properly and not being well-capitalized at that point, that we probably registered it too early, so there’s a time lapse between when we registered it and when our product went out.”
During that period, Chatham registered a trademark for “Bomberger’s Declaration” and produced a limited-edition release in September of 2014. The Pennsylvania group’s first bottling of a sourced whiskey under the Bomberger’s brand was released in October of 2014. “We’re sold in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, here in Pennsylvania of course, and we’re working on building a distillery that’s just a few miles away from the original site,” Wolfe said.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Avianna Wolfe:
Chatham Imports president Joseph Magliocco responded to a request for his company’s side of the story via email:
“We wholeheartedly believe in good faith that both the facts and the law support our rights to the brand Bomberger’s Declaration™. We believe that new entrants to the American whiskey business are good for the category, good for the industry, and good for consumers. While we wish them well, we simply expect companies to respect one another’s intellectual property rights.”
Arianna Wolfe accused Chatham of trying to outspend them in legal fees, estimating that it would cost at least $50,000 to take the case to discovery and be able to question Chatham executives under oath in the case. “The strategy is to outspend us and crush us that way,” she said.
The lawsuit was filed in US District Court in New York City. No date has been set for a hearing in the case.
Editor’s note: A copy of the lawsuit is available to view here. In civil cases, court filings represent only one side of a story, and should not be considered as proven facts until argued in a court. This story was updated to correct the location of the original Bomberger’s Distillery from Lancaster County to Lebanon County.