French stamp on grape impostor

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IT MAY seem petty, but not to the world-renowned Chateau Lafite Rothschild winery. When a tiny vintners in California started calling itself 'Chateau La Feet' and stuck a picture of a large grape- stained foot on its bottle labels, the French were outraged. They decided the Americans, sans gout as ever, had to be stopped.

The Bordeaux-based winemakers promptly threatened to sue, arguing that 'Chateau La Feet' violated their historic trademark, and ran the risk of causing confusion among drinkers, who would merely glance at the label to assume they were guzzling the good stuff.

This was despite the fact that the Californian wine, made by Barefoot Cellars in Sonoma County, costs an average of dollars 5 ( pounds 3.37) a bottle - some dollars 95 less than the sort of price you can expect to pay for the bottles churned out by its French counterpart.

But the threat of protracted court proceedings has made the Americans think again. 'You're talking about 13 generations of European wealth against a native California bootstrap corporation,' Michael Houlihan, the owner of Barefoot, told the San Francisco Chronicle. Knowing an unequal contest when he sees one, he has changed the name to 'Chateau La Foot'.

'If the Baron (de Rothschild) doesn't like Chateau La Foot, I'll change it again to Chateau La Toe. We have a big foot on our label, so we are always going to be chateau la something-below-the-knee.'

This is not the only recent dust- up between the French and the Californians. Earlier this month the Jacques Cousteau Society filed a dollars 1.2m lawsuit against a Californian dairy which produced billboards showing its mascot, Clo, a cartoon cow, as 'Jacques COWsteau' - a reference to the French diver - promoting a marine world.

Charles De Gaulle once wondered how people could expect anyone 'to govern a country with 246 different types of cheese'. The Californians would add - 'and no sense of humour'.