Thursday, March 18, 2010

German courts need better tasters

Eisch, a premium wine glass maker, lost a lawsuit in German court because German judges don't have good palates.

I know -- I taste-tested the product in question, and despite what the German court says, it is different.

Here's the background.

Eisch, a small family-owned German company, makes a glass it calls "breathable," which it claims aerates wine in two to four minutes. Riedel, the Austrian glass giant that recently swallowed Spiegelau, sued, saying that Eisch's claims were false advertising.

Eisch lost the case in January, but the news just surfaced this week. I suppose Eisch had no interest in publicizing its loss and Riedel didn't want to trumpet its win, because to do so would have meant giving publicity to its much smaller rival.

According to Tim Teichgraeber, the court found that the flavors of wine in the Eisch breathable glass did not differ from an ordinary glass, "neither in a food chemistry analysis nor in a gustation (tasting) test carried out by experienced wine tasters."

I'd like to know which tasters the court called on. Michael Franz, my editor at Wine Review Online, and I did blind taste tests of Eisch's breathable glass last year, and we both found that wine, sake, Cognac and coffee all tasted considerably different than when served in comparably shaped non-breathable glass.

Michael wrote a column on the test. I did not because my results differed from his in an important way. Michael nearly always preferred the breathable glass. I always found the tastes to be different, usually significantly, but nearly half the time I preferred the non-breathable glass. I chalk that up to palate preference. Michael is in Baltimore (go Orioles!), but I live in California. Perhaps I like my wines fresher and less aerated (even though I wrote this on the topic last year.)

In any case, Michael and I walked away from the test in disagreement about what tasted best, but in complete agreement that the Eisch breathable glass made a difference. So I'd like to know which tasters the German court called on.

In fairness, Eisch hurt its case by refusing to release any details of what exactly makes its glass "breathable." Company president Eberhard Eisch claimed he was in a tough spot: if he released his technology to appease the court, Riedel could easily copy it. Eisch said that was the reason he hadn't applied for a patent. It's plausible, but not an argument a court is likely to sympathize with.

Eisch won't have to pay damages, but will have to pay Riedel's court costs -- which could be substantial -- and stop advertising the "breathable glass." Perhaps at this point Eisch will come forward with a technical explanation. Or maybe they'll drop the whole thing.

In the meantime, if you find an Eisch glass with a little Nike-like swoosh beneath the company's name, that used to mean "breathable." Now it just means swoosh.

1 comment:

mwangbickler said...

Thanks Gray for a fairly written blog post. As you know, my PR agency represents Eisch in the U.S.

The fact is that Eisch agreed to change the terminology they use to describe the benefits provided by their glasses, which they have renamed Sensis-plus. In the legal and technical milieu of the German Courts, they could not prove that this glass does, in technical fact, breathe.

Eisch has not disclosed the proprietary technology used to produce these glasses to German courts, their competitors, or anyone else for that matter. It was developed internally and is not for sale.

I'd be happy to chat with anyone who is curious to hear more about the settlement or Eisch in general. They may contact me at