It’s a case of man or machine. A false marketing class action lawsuit has been filed in the Superior Court of California for the County of San Diego against Fifth Dimension, Inc., the Austin, Texas-based maker of Tito’s Handmade Vodka. Plaintiff Gary Hofmann accuses the company of falsely representing that its spirit, “made via a highly mechanized process that is devoid of human hands,” is “handmade.”
In the suit, the plaintiff refers to the Oxford Dictionary definition of “handmade“: “made by hand, not by machine, and typically therefore of superior quality.” The plaintiff also attempts to peel back the bottle label, which claims in romantic font that the vodka is “Crafted in an Old Fashioned Pot Still by America’s Original Microdistillery.” Based on the plaintiff’s “information and belief,” the label might be more accurate if it said in bold Helvetica, “Crafted in Massive Buildings Containing Ten Floor-to-Ceiling Stills and Bottling 500 Cases an Hour.” Many of the manufacturing details cited in the suit were sourced from a July 15, 2013, Forbes magazine article called, “The Troubling Success Of Tito’s Handmade Vodka.” Specific automated details will be revealed during discovery.
The vodka company’s owner, Bert “Tito” Beveridge, provided a written statement to the Austin American-Statesman in response to the suit: “We disagree with the claims made against us and plan to defend ourselves against this misguided attack.” Beveridge further claims that federal officials signed off on the use of “handmade.” The statement also attempts to clarify the process, which includes the “involvement of human beings.”
“We hand-connect the hoses and pumps as we taste and qualify the next steps with the distillate. We taste our product to ensure head and tail cuts, all of which are done at our distillery in Austin, Texas, are made to our exacting standards to deliver the highest quality. The artistry involved in knowing when it’s time to make those cuts is something that cannot be duplicated by even the most sophisticated machines.”
Much as it stake for the Austin-based company. As the Forbes and Statesman stories assert, Tito’s has enjoyed $85 million in annual revenue, and in 2013 was named the exclusive vodka brand for United flights worldwide. Much is at stake indeed. Stay tuned.