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Company: Trinchero Family Estates
Breach: Yes
Final Decision: 12 December 2019

Considered under the 6th Edition of the Code.

Complaint summary

“References to sexual activity or sexual success – the wine is named Ménage à Trois (a domestic arrangement in which three people having sexual relations occupy the same household) The text on the rear of the bottle mentions ‘satisfying your deepest desires’ ‘turning out the lights and savouring the pleasures of the dark’”.

Complainant

Zenith Global (as part of the independent audit of the Sixth Edition of the Code 2019)

Decision

Under Code paragraph 3.2(d)

A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way suggest any association with sexual activity or sexual success.

UPHELD

The company’s submission

The company first explained the context for the name and packaging; the wine contained a blend of three red variates, created in 1996 by the Folie á Deux winery. The company stated the name was a whimsical play on blending three different grape varietals into a pleasing arrangement. The company explained the product had captured wine lovers’ imaginations through word of mouth, and the range had expanded into white, red and rosé blends.  They said the range continued to grow after the Ménage à Trois brand was added to Trinchero Family Estates’ portfolio in 2004. The company also stated they Ménage à Trois was credited with creating the Red Blend category and defining the U.S. domestic Super Premium Red Blend segment, and the product was iconic within the wine industry. The company highlighted that the Ménage brand comprised 21 wine varietals and blends, including Midnight, Silk, Gold and Decadence.

The company stated Ménage Midnight, launched in 2014, was a special, luxurious dark red blend of principally merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and petite sirah grapes. The company addressed Zenith’s concerns around the phrases “satisfy your deepest desires’ and “turn out the lights and savour the pleasures of the dark”: they said these were joyful and provocative references that clearly referred to the relationship between the consumer and the wine, and the wine’s promise to be deeply satisfying and suitable for savouring in the dark. The company stated they disagreed with the complaint that the name or packaging suggested any inappropriate association with sexual activity or sexual success.

The company stated they have been family owned for over 70 years, and their first priority was the quality, good will and reputation of their products. The company explained the Ménage à Trois brand represented a significant and long-term investment of marketing resources, effort and time. The company stated they had always endeavoured to abide by the codes of conduct in its export markets and would continue to do so. The company also stated Ménage à Trois products had been distributed in the US for over 20 years without complaint from either of the U.S. government agencies that regulate alcohol beverage advertising, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or the Federal Trade Commission. The company also said the that the Wines Institute (the US wine trade association) had an almost identical Code but no complaints had been filed.

The Panel’s assessment

The Panel first discussed whether the name Ménage à Trois was fundamentally problematic under the Code. The Panel agreed that in common parlance the phrase was linked to sexual activity, however they also agreed there were alternative definitions. The Panel referenced the term having been used to describe political relationships as an example of a figurative meaning to the phrase. The Panel compared this name to M&S’ Pornstar Martini (upheld under 3.2(d)) and decided there was a difference between the two. The Panel pointed out that there was only one definition for Pornstar and, unlike Ménage à Trois, this was only ever sexual. The Panel also raised the point that children were unlikely to understand or ask the meaning of a French phrase on a wine bottle. It was therefore concluded that the name was not inherently problematic.

The Panel accepted that the name was word play for the blend of three grape varietals used in the making of the wine. However, the Panel emphasised that, given the sexual connotations of the name, a producer using Ménage à Trois would have to work much harder to ensure it was not making a direct link to sex. The Panel agreed that the producer deliberately made this link on their label, highlighting phrases like ‘… savour the pleasures of the dark’. For the Panel this marketing went too far and directly connected the name Ménage à Trois to sex, and therefore breached the Code. The Panel noted that this could be alleviated by emphasising the name’s connection to how the product was made.

The Panel acknowledged the innovative nature of the product and its success within the US market. They agreed that if the product had been called ‘Ménage Midnight’ (as it had been in the Company’s submission), it would be less problematic. The Panel stressed that with a name that is so commonly linked to sexual activity, the Producer must work harder to avoid the direct connection to sex. The Panel urged the Producer to avoid linking the sexual meaning of the name to the product and remove the text on the bottle which did this. The complaint was therefore upheld under 3.2(d).

Action by Company

Working with the Advisory Service.