Thursday, April 25, 2013

A bad taste in wine.

Seeing Sherlock Holmes used to promote some product or another is nothing new. And getting word of a Sherlockian creating a small batch of some product honoring the great detective always brings a smile. Of course, one small detail can sometimes turn something pleasant into . . . something maybe not so agreeable.

When 221B Cellars decided to put out A Study in Scarlet, their first limited "first edition" wine, and sent out some nice little cards to announce same, they covered all the bases. Picture of Beeton's Christmas Annual, check. Note from Sherlock Holmes with fake quotables ("I have always found that people confuse and wine clarifies."), check. Small card announcing that a portion of the proceeds go to the University of Minnesota Sherlock Holmes Collections and the Napa Valley Napoleons, check. (Though I never thought of a scion society as a place for donated proceeds before, but, hey, I suppose it's bringing Sherlock to the wine-drunk unSherlocked of Napa or something.)

But then, on the very back of the advertising card, I found "Licensed by The Conan Doyle Estate Ltd. All 221B Cellars TM wines are produced and sold under a license with the Conan Doyle Estate Ltd. We extend grateful acknowledgement to Conan Doyle Estate Ltd. for permission to use the Sherlock Holmes characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle."

Suddenly the nice little Sherlock Holmes wine turned political. I would guess that 221B Cellars set up their promo card before the "Free Sherlock" movement began and aren't rabid supporters of The Conan Doyle Estate Ltd. and their right to bully anyone using Sherlock Holmes in their own endeavors. The wine-makers apparently aren't too concerned with profits, after donating portions of their proceeds to the U of M, a scion, and The Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd. They're just trying to do the right thing, but unfortunately, The Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd. uses that right impulse as a means of money-making.

After delighting in Cara McGee's Sherlock Holmes blends of Adagio teas, I wasn't at all opposed to a little wine love for Sherlock from 221B Cellars. But that kissing up to The Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd. on the back of their promo card really didn't do them any favors. As the lawsuit to free Sherlock Holmes moves forward, some entities may still want to pay the demands of The Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd. just to stay in the clear. I can understand playing it safe. Being a rebel isn't for everyone, especially where it involves the legal system. But they may want to downplay their connection to that entity until it can prove its authority in court.

It sure doesn't make me feel all Sherlock-happy to associate it with anything, and I know I'm not alone.


  1. Not everyone agrees with you as far as the Conan Doyle Estate being an evil empire.
    Was it OK for Anthony Horowitz to go over to the dark side by writing his book.
    And if you buy a bottle you are not donating to anything. You are buying a goods and the profits are being split up. You can call it a donation if it helps. And maybe it was more timely for them to work with permission, than to wait for the lawyers to decide.

    1. More questionable business practice than "evil empire," and since the U of M Special Collections does generally call the money given to them "donations," I'll go with that. As for Horowitz, that book had issues beyond its silly "authorized" stamp.

  2. You are not alone. Being both a Sherlockian and a bit of an oenophile I was delighted to see 221B Cellars wines. But also being a supporter of Free Sherlock, I won't be buying, or drinking, any.

  3. Have to agree, Brad. Having made my career in the political arena, I understand that there is a proper time and a proper place to make an alliance, trumpet a cause, and take a stand. But in my time in private business, I have made it a point to steer completely away from taking sides. I liken it to a Main Street store, say a restaurant or antique dealer, putting a poster for one or another of the presidential candidates in the front window. Oh, sure, you have that right. But the cost might be losing half of your potential customers. How smart is that?

    I had the very same thoughts that you and Jacquelynn had when that little card/advertisement arrived in the mail. Plus, I didn't see a cost. How much are they asking? I don't drink acohol myself, so I might (oridinarily) have bought a bottle for my collection.

    And Horowitz' book was just dreadful in my view and unworthy of the attempt to make it a "61st adventure."

  4. Hello All. Vamberry here, one of the creators of 221B Cellars and the First Edition Wines of Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps a bit about us would be in order to assist all who seem to be speculating.

    We are life-long Sherlockians, and those are lives well into their 70s and 80s. One of us, (the 70/y/o)is published and the other, (the 83 y/o)is well-published in the Sherlockian world. One of us is a very long BSI member; the other a member of SHSL.

    The wine is priced at $39 a bottle plus shipping. It costs us $21 a bottle, including a $1.50 licensing fee to The Doyle Estate Ltd. There is little profit in making one barrel of wine for anyone. Of the $18 gross profit, we will donate a total of $9 (50% of profits, giving $4.50 to the Univ. of Minnesota and $4.50 to the Napa Valley Napoleons of S.H. We hope they will use this small donation for educational or research purposes to further Sherlockian studies, perhaps focusing on youth.

    We are also donating (no cost) 1 bottle to the Baker Street Irregulars and 1 bottle to The Sherlock Holmes Society of London. We hope they will auction them off and raise a few dollars for furthering Sherlockian studies. (the wine and the shipping will cost me about $100, and that's my money).

    The other half of the profit ($9) we will reserve to partially pay for the production of one barrel next year of The Hound of the Baskervilles, a first edition Zinfandel. Again, only 200 bottles will be made. Yes, we have $9 GROSS profit on a bottle, but this doesn't even begin to cover the advertising expense(we spent $250 on the back page of the Baker Street Journal for this summer, and that helps the BSI even more), the $400 in printing and postage forthe card mailing, the $1,000 cost of a French oak barrel to age the wine in, the label costs of $300, etc., etc., etc. I figure if we are successful (and apparently some unknown controversy may now keep that from happening), this project is only going to cost me about $2,500 of my own money. But, hey . . . that's what old Sherlockians do to have fun. Some go to Switzerland and visit the falls before they go over the falls; instead, we made 200 bottles of wine for what we thought was a good purpose.

    Regarding The Doyle Estate Ltd., we have no idea what you and others are commenting about. We are Sherlockian Traditionalists and not Fandom followers (we haven't seen Mr. Cumberbatch or whomever). We have always been respectful of the U.S. copyright laws and comply with the display of the seal and wording as specified by the license. We do this on the wine and on our books. We thought (and continue to believe) that copyright law requires one to meet the conditions of licenses and contracts, and we do so freely as we live in a society and nation of laws. Apparently, there is some disagreement regarding that responsibility, and when and if the copyright law is changed, we will comply with the changes.

    Hey, we're just a couple of old Sherlockians trying to have a little fun and offering something the scion societies might wish to purchase and use as a fund-raising auction item in their meetings so that they can raise a few dollars to introduce young people to Sherlock Holmes. The idea is: buy a bottle of wine for $39 and auction it off for $100 and give 30 kids a copy of The Sacred Canon. How does that make us bad people?

    Come on . . . Holmes himself displayed great compassion in many of his cases. He had an unerring talent for finding the good in many things. Should we aspire to less?

    Don Libey, SHSL
    Editor, "The Autobiography of Sherlock Holmes"
    Santa Rosa CA
    Details on wine is found at

    1. Thanks for all the information, Don. The best information on Les Klinger's lawsuit against the "Doyle Estate" entity can be found at . This strange licensing business isn't really good for anyone, but if the reaction to this particular blog shows anything, you may sell some extra bottles to those who disagree with my comments.

    2. Long Time SherlockianApril 25, 2013 at 6:34 PM

      What we are sad about, Don, is that you were duped into paying a licensing fee for a book title (titles cannot be copyrighted in any event, but even if they could, "A Study in Scarlet" is indisputably in the public domain) and for the use of a character (Sherlock Holmes) that is also in the public domain.

      I have no doubt that you wanted to be "respectful of U.S. copyright laws" as you stated, and you should be commended for that. I know and understand that you acted i good faith. But the copyright laws have nothing whatsoever to do with your wine. No one had the right to shake you down for a licensing fee, it was unethical for someone to do that, and this intimidation scam has gone far enough.

      That's what the Klinger lawsuit against the "estate" is all about. Yours is a little different, though, because you aren't even producing a book or a movie. The "estate" can be counted on to use your innocent and naieve compliance with their shakedown as "evidence" as they defend themeselves in this long-overdue lawsuit.

      I hope that one of the eventual results on the suit will be a repayment to you and to others who needlessly paid a fee to this racket.

      "Sherlock" and "Elementary" and the Downey movies regard paying off the "estate (and Andrea Plunkett as well, by the way) as a minor cost of doing business. These racketeers never charge enough to bring on a lawsuit from the big boys, and just enough to keep themselves in the green. It is disgusting.

  5. Vamberry Again. One more thing:

    We began planning our 221B Cellars over a year ago. The license was duly applied for and granted back in 2012. Whatever the controversy is about, we were not involved. We respect all the good Sherlockians who contribute to The Game.

  6. Since I have the distinction of having ordered the first bottle to be sold by 221bCellars, and having enjoyed and benefited from Don Libey's superb tastes in wine in the past, I wanted to emphasize that Mr. Libey approached the Conan Doyle Estate for its imprimatur prior to Les Klinger's suit, and that he merely acted in good faith. Indeed, it was a matter of mere months ago that Sherlockians regarded it as a good thing to have that approval.

    If a license from the Conan Doyle Estate is now a Black Mark, let's not forget that everyone's fanfave, "Sherlock," also carries that license.

    1. The timing is a shame, yes, but personally, I was avoiding things with the "Conan Doyle Estate" imprimatur long before Les Klinger filed his suit.

      There is definitely a black mark associated the "Estate" these days, but I think BBC "Sherlock" is successful enough to handle having paid a little money to keep the lawyers happy.

    2. "There is definitely a black mark associated the "Estate" these days, but I think BBC "Sherlock" is successful enough to handle having paid a little money to keep the lawyers happy."

      Not especially sequitour to the point, which is that if you propose shunning anything that bears that Conan Doyle Estate imprimatur, you should include "Sherlock" as well.

    3. Don actually makes a good point. It looks as if you're making an exception for a television program that you like. Surely you're not saying that if a franchise is successful enough, it's excused for associating itself with that "questionable business practice," are you?

    4. If Elementary, Sherlock, or the movies were waving the "Doyle Estate" in our faces, they might be associated with it. They pay to shut their lawyers up, they don't announce it in their previews, and pretty much ignore it. If my first contact with any of those ventures was the announcement of "approved by the Doyle Estate," that would get them off on the wrong foot just the same as any other venture, large or small.

    5. Just swinging back around on this - I notice that you supported the Steampunk Holmes Kickstarter, whose home page sports a big ol' logo and statement "authorised by the Conan Doyle Estate Ltd."

    6. You can't swing a "Last Bow" cat without hitting the Doyle estate these days, so I may have accidentally done so, but I kind of wonder if that big ol' logo was on that page when I Kickstartered that mistake.

      Let's not pretend I was trying to organize an all out boycott here. I was just recording my honest reaction to reading their flyer. And when it comes to that Doyle Estate shenanigans, it's not positive.

    7. Oh, I absolutely don't think you're trying to start a boycott. I was just wondering about which logoed programs were fair game and which weren't. There do seem to be more instances of "approved" projects with every stone one turns over, some of which are questionable.

  7. To Mr. Libey and Mr. Pollock:

    The controversy to which many of us refer has been ongoing for some time now. The claim by the Estate that anything related to Holmes requires a licensing fee paid to themselves disregards how much of Holmes is actually in the public domain, which is everything but the Casebook. The finely split hair which the Estate uses as their divining rod to fund themselves points both to those who can afford it ("Sherlock," "Elementary," and the Ritchie films) and to those for whom it is a hardship. The lawsuit is the culmination of years of the Estate demanding and collecting licensing fees for that which they really have no hold on. For many of us who know people who either had to pay a fee or whose project had to be halted because the fee was out of reach, seeing a statement declaring permission by the Conan Doyle Estate is not a stamp of approval nor of quality, but an endorsement of the strong-armed tactics of an entity which itself may actually be violating copyright law. In the words of Leslie Klinger, who has brought the suit against the Estate:
    "The Estate has for some time been insisting that creators who want to use the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in their new creation pay the Estate not insubstantial amounts for 'permission' to do so. I believe that this violates U.S. copyright laws. Although 10 of the Sherlock Holmes stories written by Conan Doyle remain protected by copyright for 95 years after publication date, the last expiring in 2022, 50 of the stories are in the public domain. Because the essential characteristics of Holmes and Watson are set forth in detail in those public domain stories, I believe that anyone can freely use the characters as they see fit." (