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Tomatin named hotel and retail development row heard in country's highest civil court

By Calum MacLeod

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The Court of Session hearing was brought by Tomatin Distillery over potential confusion over use of the village name by the new development.
The Court of Session hearing was brought by Tomatin Distillery over potential confusion over use of the village name by the new development.

The operations director of a Highland distillery raised the possibility that a similarly named development near by could confuse tourists and stop them visiting the whisky maker's own visitor centre, a Court of Session case has heard.

Graham Eunson, operations director at Tomatin Distillery, was giving evidence on the second day of a legal challenge over the use of the village name for a planned £12 million retail and hospitality development on its outskirts and close to the Japanese owned distillery.

Although Tomatin Distillery has no objections to the project by Tomatin Trading Company (TTC), it has brought an intellectual property case over concerns that the use of Tomatin in its name might have an adverse impact on a whisky brand which dates back to 1897.

Mr Eunson was among the witnesses called before judge Lady Wolffe where he answered questions relating to previously supplied witness statements.

Questioned by TTC advocate Usman Tariq, Mr Eunson confirmed that the distillery had looked at expansion plans for its visitor centre on three occasions, but had not been able to come to an agreement on the best way forward.

Asked if plans to add a restaurant at the distillery were given any serious consideration, Mr Eunson responded that there had been discussion about expanding to allow whisky tastings where some food could be provided, but no catering facilities were planned at that stage.

Mr Tariq also asked Mr Eunson about a text he had received from a relative who had worked in the hotel industry referring to a news article about TTC's plans to build a retail development, restaurant and hotel next to the A9 on a site previously occupied by a filling station and Little Chef restaurant, where his relation asked if the distillery was "getting into the hotel business".

"Could he have been teasing?" Mr Tariq asked. "He knows full well you are not opening a 97-bedroom hotel."

Mr Eunson replied that he could not say the reason for texting and asked a similar question about comments from friends in Orkney about the hotel plan, he answered: "I can't talk for them."

Mr Tariq went on to refer to the final paragraph of Mr Eunson's statement, which said of the projected TTC development: "It has the potential to adversely impact adversely on us, especially if the names are too similar."

Mr Eunson said: "I think there is a possibility, yes.

"If there is anything that has Tomatin branding on it, they may think it is a souvenir of the distillery and not realise the distillery is nearby."

He went on to tell the hearing that visitors to the distillery ranged from whisky aficionados to almost accidental visitors.

"We get people who just want to go into the shop. They don't want to go on the (distillery) tour. They just want a souvenir," he added

Also giving evidence about Tomatin whisky and its position in the marketplace were whisky and spirits buyer Guy Hodcroft, Brian Gibson, joint managing director of specialist wines and spirits seller TB Watson and author and whisky consultant Charles MacLean.

The hearing continues.

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