Once upon a time there were two wine-making brothers named Ernest and Julio Gallo. They founded a winery more than 75 years ago and their viable vinificating legacy continues to this day in northern California.

The Gallos' corporate website touts, "E&J Gallo Winery is the largest family-owned winery in the world today and is the second largest winery in terms of volume…Headquartered in Modesto, California, E&J Gallo Winery remains a privately-held and ever-growing company that employs more than 5,000 people worldwide…With products available in more than 90 countries, E&J Gallo Winery is the largest exporter of California wine." What a warm and fuzzy picture of a booming family business and a far-reaching entrepreneurial spirit. Perhaps a bit too far-reaching, as a local retailer recently found out.

Steve Winston is the owner of The Spanish Table specialty food stores, with locations in Santa Fe, Seattle, Wash., and Berkeley and Mill Valley, Calif. He is also the now infamous importer of a Spanish brand of food products named Gallo after the Spanish word for rooster. And so begins the sordid tale of wine versus pasta, English language versus Spanish and big business versus small, all wrapped up with a sprinkling of trademark protection law for good measure.

In early March, E&J Gallo Winery contacted Winston, "demanding [he] immediately cease and desist sales of" the Gallo fideo pasta from Spain. Not satisfied with Winston's declination, by mid-April E&J Gallo filed a complaint for state and federal trademark infringement and dilution, state unfair competition and unjust enrichment against The Spanish Table in the Eastern District Court of California.

According to the suit, E&J Gallo "has vigorously protected its trademark against third party infringement and dilution and has stopped others from using its marks on a wide variety of goods and services," which include habanero sauce, beer, rice, sportswear, bar towels, the naming of Thoroughbred race horses…the list goes on to detail 43 items. Despite its trademark fervor, currently only four of the 55 items produced by E&J Gallo carry the word "Gallo" in the name.

If you are trying to make sense of how and why a wine maker has the right or even wants to limit language translation, thwart rooster iconography, deter global food availability and sue a specialty food importer, good luck.

Loree Stroup, E&J Gallo's corporate communications and PR manager, says, "The Gallo brand is known, recognized and trusted throughout the world, and we will always protect the image of our brand and the promise it represents to our customers. Like many companies, we have understandings with companies around the world to not sell or market products in the United States under the 'Gallo' brand. We have such an understanding with the Gallo pasta producer."

No response was given to repeated attempts to have Stroup clarify the term "understanding." In a world mired by endless wars, rebel pirates and impending pandemics, fighting over food names seems petty indeed.

Why do these absurd legal matters enter into our food culture in the first place? Perhaps E&J Gallo will dig deep and reconsider its motivations and drop its complaint against Winston and others like him.

And perhaps we can all go back to a nice civilized dinner, just not tapas and Chianti tonight.

The Spanish Table
109 N. Guadalupe St.