Helen Turley, America’s most famous "consulting winemaker", is again facing a lawsuit involving a client. This doesn’t really surprise me, for a number of reasons. What is interesting however is the mindset that would allow a person to agree to Ms. Turley’s terms for her participation as a consulting winemaker:
-Agree to spend a huge, top-end sum of money on both vineyard development and building
a winery to Turley’s exact specifications
(vineyard development I can understand…But why spend huge amounts on a brand new winery when you could spend less or custom crush and augment the leased operation with your own contributions of equipment?)
-Pay Turley a consulting fee beginning at $150K and rising to $550K by year seven.
-Agreeing to give Turley a percentage of the "earnings" after year seven.
What do you get in return?
-"oversight" of vineyard development.
-"Turley’s "consulting" on winemaking procedures
-Access to Turley’s list of customers
-Turley’s influence with the wine media
Whether or not you think you actually need Helen Turley to make beautiful wine from Napa grown grapes, you have to ask yourself what the winery owner really hoped to gain by agreeing to these, well, these amazingly lopsided terms. Did they want to make the best wine they could? Did they hope to present a wine that was a lovely representation of the vineyards? Did they hope to start a business selling wine? Or, did they hope to simply be a big shot?
Clearly the client in question was willing to give over his vision and his cash to Ms. Turley in exchange for potential fame that would come not from the quality of the wine but from producing a wine that was given a high score by Robert Parker. That’s what you get when you buy Helen Turley. Oh, you also get ultra-ripe, over the top, dense wines that rarely reflect the source of the grapes.
Let’s be clear. I’m not criticizing Turley or Robert Parker. Both have demonstated their talent, commitment and influence. I’m just questioning the cost and return on ego-stroking.