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Helen Turley: A Trailblazing Winemaker and Wine Consultant

Helen Turley- A Trailblazing Winemaker and Wine Consultant

Helen Turley is a true pioneer in American wine world. Known for her remarkable contributions to the wine industry, Turley has brought several Californian cult wines to the forefront of public awareness. She is not only a trailblazing winemaker but also the owner of the prestigious 20-acre boutique winery, Marcassin Vineyard. Her accolades include Wine Spectator’s Distinguished Service Award and Food & Wine’s Achievement Winemaker of the Year, cementing her status as an industry luminary[1].

Mentorship and Consulting

Turley’s influence extends far beyond her own vineyards. She has played a vital role in mentoring numerous California wine consultants, shaping the careers of talents like Mark Aubert, Jesse Hall, Philippe Melka, and Heidi Barrett. Her consulting work has left an indelible mark on wineries such as Pahlmeyer, Bryant Family Vineyard, Colgin, Martinelli, and Blankiet. Additionally, until 1995, she served as the winemaker for Turley Wine Cellars, a winery that bears her family name.

A Journey of Innovation

Helen Turley’s journey into the world of winemaking began when she graduated from Cornell’s agricultural school in the 1970s and subsequently moved to the Napa Valley, where she started working at Robert Mondavi’s lab. Her innovative spirit became evident in 1989 when she crafted two barrels of wine using wild yeast, marking the end of conventional winemaking practices.

Did you know?

Helen Turley was the founding winemaker at Peter Michael Winery in the Knights Valley wine region.

Throughout her illustrious career, Turley advocated for unconventional winemaking methods that were ahead of their time. She was among the first winemakers in California to employ techniques like cold soaks and prioritize the harvesting of phenolically ripe fruit to create wines that were as natural as possible

The Superconsultant Era

The 1990s witnessed the rise of the superconsultant in California’s wine industry, with Helen Turley at the forefront. She catapulted startups like Peter Michael, Colgin, and Bryant Family to stardom, elevating wine quality to unprecedented heights[2]. She emphasized that with the right vineyard and grapes, one could create exceptional wine.

At the peak of her career, Turley simultaneously crafted wines for a multitude of prestigious wineries, including Colgin, Bryant, Turley, Martinelli, Pahlmeyer, Green & Red, Harrison, La Jota, Landmark, and Canepa. She also co-founded Marcassin with her husband, John Wetlaufer. Notable successes included her Napa Valley Cabernets and her role in enhancing the quality of Chardonnay in Napa and Sonoma. With Marcassin, she played a pivotal role in putting Sonoma Coast on the wine map.

producer-turley-wine-cellars
Turley Winery | Source

Legal Challenges

Turley’s remarkable career did not come without its share of challenges. In 2001, Turley and her husband were hired by Roy Estate to design a Napa Valley vineyard and act as consulting  winemakers. However, their collaboration ended in a lawsuit filed by the owners of Roy Estate, alleging breach of contract[3]. Eventually, the lawsuit was settled out of court in May 2006.

Helen Turley’s legacy in the world of wine is one of innovation, mentorship, and exceptional craftsmanship. Her influence continues to reverberate through the vineyards and cellars of California, leaving an indelible mark on the industry she has helped shape and redefine.

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