What About Bob (Betz)?

When I first sat down to write about Bob Betz, one of the most revered winemakers in Washington state, I knew early on that I would end up writing a lengthy tome about this Pacific Northwest icon. So, in the interest of brevity (somewhat), I’ll narrow it down and give you what I believe to be the 10 Things You Should Know About Bob Betz.

1. He is officially – and unofficially – a Master of Wine. Bob Betz is one of 370 individuals in the world who holds a Master of Wine (MW) degree. Many in the wine industry (myself included) believe that the MW designation is the most respected title in the world of wine. Bob achieved this in 1998 and received two additional awards upon successfully completing the program: the Villa Maria Award for the highest scores on the viticultural exam, and the Robert Mondavi Award for the highest overall score in all theory exams.

2. He helped put Washington wine on the world wine map . . . In 1975 – when there were only eight wineries in Washington (there are now over 900!) – Bob was hired at Chateau Ste. Michelle. He was employed at the winery for 28 years, working in nearly every division of the company, before retiring in 2003 as Vice President of Winemaking Research.  Chateau Ste. Michelle is now the second-largest premium American wine brand sold in the United States, trailing only California’s Kendall Jackson.

3. and conversely helped bring the world of wine to Washington. One of Bob’s many roles while at Chateau Ste. Michelle was Managing Director of Col Solare. Established in 1995, Col Solare is a partnership between Chateau Ste. Michelle and Marchesi Antinori created to “produce a Washington wine with an Italian soul”. While Chateau Ste. Michelle recently turned 50 – a big achievement in the Washington wine world – the Antinori family has been making wine for over 625 years!

Col Solare
View from Col Solare on Red Mountain, Washington

One of the most coveted items at the Auction of Washington Wines – the annual charitable gala recognizing the best and brightest in the industry – is a trip to Italy with Bob and his wife Cathy.  If you guessed that experiencing the Antinori family’s iconic estates firsthand with a Master is on my bucket list, you would be right!

4. There were a few paths not chosen in his life . . . Bob has a degree in Zoology from the University of Washington. He was also accepted into medical school in 1980, but (thankfully!) had already been bitten by the wine bug by this time and opted to stay on that course. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, he has said that he hopes he’s helped make people “healthy in a different way”. 😉

5. before he forged his own. Betz Family Winery – established in 1997 by Bob and Cathy – was the product of a worldwide expedition that began decades earlier.  In the early 1970’s the two spent a year in Europe visiting the wineries, estates and  vineyards of France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Austria learning the European “culture of wine” . The Betz’s first production yielded 150 cases. Today, the winery produces around 5,250 cases per year.  Over the years with Bob at the helm, Betz Family Winery amassed several awards, to name just a few:

• Betz Family Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 was named Washington’s Number One Wine of the Year by the Seattle Times wine critic, Paul Gregutt
• Bob was named Sunset Magazine’s Winemaker of the Year in 2007
• 2010 Pere de Famille was ranked #6 in the World in Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 Cellar Selections

Additionally, Betz Family Wines have received consistent 90+ Points from Robert Parker and Wine Enthusiast. Betz lineup

6. Bob is particular about where his fruit comes from . . .  Betz Family Winery gets its grapes from the same rows in the same vineyards every year from some of Washington’s top wine growers. Bob believes there’s a huge, fundamental difference between grape growers and wine growers. He says that a grape grower “looks at the grape as the end point in their work.” On the other hand, a wine grower “looks at the grape as a transitional point between the land and the table.”

Some of the wine growers/vineyards Bob works with include: Boushey Vineyard and Red Willow in the Yakima Valley; Ciel du Cheval, Kiona and Klipsun on Red Mountain; and Harrison Hill and Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain.

7. which results in an understated style of winemaking. Bob is big on keeping tannins in check.  Instead of pumping the juice from the grapes like many other Washington wineries, he uses gravity.  He designed a small funnel on top of the fermenter and gravity drops the juice into it. His winery also uses the punch down method during fermentation rather than pump over – a key differentiator that comes across in the bottle.  Additionally, Bob uses mostly French oak barrels for aging (he found the American barrels “too coarse”) and less new oak than he used to in order to diminish the “woody impression” in his wines. His prefers to age his Rhône blends in entirely neutral barrels.

8. He’s leaving his legacy in good hands. When they decided it was time to find a new owner/caretaker for their winery – Bob & Cathy had suitors from around the world for Betz Family Winery. In the final bidding process, they had narrowed it down to two major Napa Valley wineries and one couple. They went with the couple. 🙂 In 2011, Bob & Cathy sold Betz Family Winery to Steve and Bridgit Griessel.  The Griessels are incredibly warm and friendly people – much like Bob & Cathy.  And while they are committed to keeping the Betz heritage alive, they are also taking the winery on some exciting new directions – like a Chenin Blanc from their native South Africa!

Bob remained on as head winemaker until 2016 when he passed that torch to Louis Skinner. He remains involved in his namesake winery as Consulting Winemaker and is still a familiar friendly face at the winery’s semi-annual wine club release events!

9. Bob remains a Washington wine icon and dynamo. Last year, Bob returned to Col Solare as Consulting Winemaker.  He’s also a frequent panelist at Washington wine seminars – most recently “Blind Tasting Bootcamp with the Masters” at this year’s Taste Washington. And he’s on the Board of the Auction of Washington Wines – the fifth largest charity wine auction in the United States.

10. If this wine thing doesn’t work out for him – he has a future in Hollywood. Bob makes an appearance in “Somm: Into the Bottle”, the follow-up documentary to the well known 2012 movie “Somm”. At about the 42 minute mark, he discusses the wide range of grapes grown in Washington – from Cabernet Sauvignon to Riesling.  He asserts that we (I might live in SoCal now, but I can still say “we”!) have challenged the notion that certain varieties have to be grown in only certain places.

I lied. There’s one more thing I think that everyone should know about Bob Betz. I believe it was wine writer Andy Perdue who referred to Bob as “a true gentleman of the wine industry” and I couldn’t agree more. I have never heard a negative or unkind word said about him.  He is incredibly well respected, likable and eager to help others as they forge their own path.  In what can be a competitive industry with bottom line results, he stands out as a winemaker – scratch that, as a person – to aspire to.

 

Bob pic
Photo credit: Great Northwest Wine

 

 

12 Bottles & 1,000 Miles

In a few days I’ll be moving from my beloved Pacific Northwest to Southern California.  One of my biggest concerns of the move – besides how my 13 year old Lab will handle it – is how to get my wine down there safely.  I have about 15 or so cases, which in my mind isn’t a huge wine collection, although Hubs might disagree with me on this particular point.  (Sidenote: One somewhat uncomfortable part to the move thus far was having to disclose all of my wine hiding spots to Hubs – the two boxes behind my sweaters in the master closet, the one stashed under the extra dining room chairs, others that I won’t mention here so I can reuse these spots in our new digs.)

Thankfully, our moving company is going to handle transporting the majority of the bottles.  However, just in case (pun truly not intended), I’m setting aside a carefully curated case that will travel with us in the car.  We’ll take these 12 bottles of wine along with other precious and irreplaceable items (our Yellow Lab’s ashes, wedding photos, Hubs’s very first home run ball) and head south – funny that the things that mean the most to you in life have almost zero monetary value.

It was at this point in the move that I realized that I had some very difficult decisions to make:  What 12 wines would make the cut?  Which wines would I be the most distraught over losing?  The most expensive ones?  The oldest?  The wines purchased on our trip to France?  Those from my favorite wineries?  Those that elicit amazing memories?

After an extraordinary amount of consideration (and consternation) – I present to you in no particular order the dozen that made the I-can’t-live-without-them list and will be joining us on I-5 in a climate controlled environment…

Bottle #1:  L’Ecole No. 41 2012 Ferguson Vineyard Estate Red, Walla Walla Valley, Washington.  L’Ecole will always have a special place in my heart because it’s the first “real” wine that I ordered when we were out to dinner with friends who handed me the wine list.  This was at least a decade ago and it was a bottle of their Recess Red – back when they had the fun crayon drawing of a schoolhouse. L'ecole L’Ecole’s Ferguson wines have received some serious accolades the past few years (like best Bordeaux blend in the WORLD from Decanter Magazine).

Bottle #2:  Jean Foillard 2015 ‘Cote du Py’ Morgon, Beaujolais, France.  I had the 2012 vintage of this wine in my French Wine Scholar class back in 2014 and it totally turned me onto cru Beaujolais.  This Morgon tasted like a dirty Pinot – and I absolutely loved it.  Since then, I’ve been obsessed with the 10 crus and what differentiates them from one another.  Plus, I’ve ordered some 2016’s of this wine and want to geek out on vintage comparisons.

Bottle #3:  Betz Family Winery 2014 ‘Heart of the Hill’ Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, Washington.  This is me when I think of Bob Betz:  Betz heartsHe is truly one of the most genuine, likable and admired people in the Washington wine industry.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know his wines over the past few years – as well as stalking him at various wine events.  And even though I’m not usually a Cabernet Sauvignon lover – particularly one from Red Mountain – this wine was my favorite at the Betz Spring Release last year.

Bottle #4:  Pago de los Capellanes 2016 ‘O Luar do Sil’ Godello, Valdeorras, Spain. It may seem odd to bring an under $20 bottle of fairly easily replaceable Spanish white as one of my “delectable dozen” but I have a good reason for doing so (besides this being an incredibly tasty wine and Godello a likely upcoming outline).  We’re stopping for two nights en route to SoCal, and I’m fully expecting the hotels’ minibars to only offer an overpriced, mass produced California blend.  So as to avoid that Conundrum (pun totally intended), I’ve included this wine as one that I won’t feel guilty opening.  Which brings me to . . .

Bottle #5:  Savage Grace 2016 Underwood Mountain Vineyards Riesling, Columbia Gorge, Washington.  As mentioned above, we’re stopping for two nights.  So one “ok to open now” bottle isn’t going to be enough.  Hubs loves Rieslings and I love Savage Grace – so this bottle will be a win-win.  Savage GraceBesides, I firmly believe that the primary reason the 2017 Auction of Washington Wines Picnic sold out was because their advertisement featured me and my galfriends with awesome winemaker, Michael Savage. 🙂

Bottle #6:  Zenato 2011 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, Veneto, Italy. I’ve been studying for the Italian Wine Scholar certification for several weeks now and making slow progress.  (Note to self: next time you’re planning a move after 18 years in one house, don’t sign up for a challenging wine certification). This is probably the wine I’m most looking forward to tasting out of the several Italians that I purchased earlier this year.  And I’m saving it until I’m almost finished with my certification . . . which at this rate, will be around Thanksgiving.

Bottle #7:   Quilceda Creek 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington. This wine got 95+ points from all the major wine critics and is worth the most $$ of any bottle in my collection.  That’s a strange sentence to write as I’m not at all a points pusher nor do the most expensive wines typically grab my attention.  However, this is from an iconic Washington winery and my departure from the Pacific Northwest deserves at least one status bottle.  All that being said – I have no idea how I will personally feel about this wine as my palate tends to differ from some of the critics and, unlike shoes, I don’t always end up preferring the most expensive wine.

Bottle #8:  Guy Bernard 2013 ‘Cote Rozier’ Cote Rotie, Rhone Valley, France. Hubs and I purchased this bottle from the amazing Vincent on one of the most memorable days of my life. We hired him as our personal tour guide in the Northern Rhone and Guy Bernard was our last stop of the day.  Their facility/tasting room was a very unassuming place, charmingly cluttered and their wines were some of the best I’ve ever tasted.  And when Vincent took us in the back for some barrel thieving, I was hooked.

Bottle #9: Remi Niero 2014 ‘Chery’ Condrieu, Rhone Valley, France. This was another winery we visited with Vincent. He grew up in Condrieu and drove Hubs and me through its streets like a Formula 1 driver pushing his Peugeot to the limit. Vincent was also on a first name basis with the local winemakers including Remi Niero, who produces some damn delicious Viognier. If you’re ever lucky enough to find yourself in this beautiful wine region, I cannot recommend Vincent highly enough. He made our day so memorable and I’d go back just so he could take us out for another spin around his hometown. You can read more info about Vincent here.

 

Condrieu

 

Bottle #10:   Kevin White Winery 2013 ‘DuBrul Vineyard’ Red Wine, Yakima Valley, Washington. I have such fond memories of this wine!  I purchased a case at the Auction of Washington Wines barrel auction a couple years ago.   And, of course, after a few hours of tasting my competitive streak came out so I had to be the top bid and “win” the autographed barrel top.  Kevin WhiteKevin White remains one of my favorite Washington wineries for producing wines that taste like they should cost at least twice as much.

Bottle #11: Archery Summit 2013 ‘Looney Vineyard’ Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge, Oregon. I first visited this winery with my mom-in-law in 2010, thus beginning my love for Oregon Pinot Noir.  Besides being an absolutely gorgeous tasting room, Archery Summit produces unique, terroir driven wines from their six distinct vineyards.  Looney Vineyard is consistently my favorite, and I’ll be writing more about it in my upcoming Ribbon Ridge AVA post.

Bottle #12:  Gramercy Cellars 2015 ‘L’Idiot du Village’ Mourvèdre, Columbia Valley, Washington.  I could have filled my entire case with Gramercy wines.  So selecting just one was like picking a favorite dog – which Hubs might be able to do, but I cannot.  Greg Harrington is just the bees knees.  He’s an incredible winemaker and is always coming out with something different – Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Picpoul(!). And while his Syrahs are among the best I’ve had, his Mourvèdre is one of my favorite wines.  Ever.  I credit him for turning me onto this varietal, and giving me a borderline obsession with it.  I also credit him with teaching me the proper method for opening a bottle of wine so as to pass the certified sommelier exam (minus the screwy face). 😉  Gramercy

Greg – if you happen to read this,  and plan on opening a tasting room in Southern California, please let me know and I’ll get you my resume ASAP to apply to be your tasting room manager.  And if you’re planning on opening a spot in Woodinville . . .  well, I just might hightail it back to the Pacific Northwest.

So there you have it, the delectable dozen that made the cut!   Although my next blog post will be from my newly adopted home in California – I will always remain a PNW wine girl at heart!!

 

 

Lake Chelan AVA

I’ve lived in Washington my entire life and yet I can count on a whopping two fingers the number of times that I’ve visited Lake Chelan – one of the most popular vacation destinations in the state. Both of these visits have been during the “offseason” of late October / early November. Granted, some wineries weren’t open during this time of year and it’s not nearly as enjoyable to sit outside and admire the gorgeous lake views when it’s 40 degrees as opposed to 80. But on the flip side, visiting during the offseason means far fewer crowds and shorter tasting room lines as the population plummets to 1/10th of the peak summer months.

The draw of Lake Chelan by the summer tourists is easily understood, with lots to see and do – and drink! Only a three hour car ride from Seattle to the west or Spokane from the east, it is easily accessible and makes for a (relatively) affordable weekend getaway. However, unlike other Washington AVAs that have built their tourism around an already thriving wine industry, Lake Chelan has done the opposite. Here, tourism was the area’s initial draw and wine has only recently been added as part of the region’s “to do” list. Likely much to the relief of summering parents watching Little Johnny cannonball off the dock yet again.

Lake Chelan is very new AVA (established in 2009) and is wholly contained within the larger Columbia Valley AVA.  Although grapes have been grown in this area since the late 1800s, the first truly modern, production vineyard unbelievably wasn’t planted until 1998 (ironically making this particular AVA too young to enjoy its own wines).  So really, “serious” grape growing in this region is still in its infancy – although I imagine that some old-timers might strenuously disagree with me on this point.

The lake itself is the AVA’s most unique attribute and is a major factor as to why wines from this area are unlike any others from Washington. Lake Chelan is the 3rd deepest lake in the United States (after Crater Lake and Lake Tahoe) and is a whopping 52 miles long! Which helps explain why the driving time between winery visits can seem like an eternity.

The lake moderates temperatures year-round: helping the region stay much cooler in the summer months than the rest of the Columbia Valley AVA (preserving acidity in its zippy whites), yet also extending the growing season so as to encourage ripening of its red varieties. Speaking as someone who spent her entire childhood in the Columbia Valley AVA, the heat of the summer months can be unbearable.

My most recent visit to Lake Chelan was in early November 2016 and I was thoroughly impressed with the whites of the area (especially Viognier). They’re bright and fruity, but maintain a weight and complexity that make them more than mere porch pounders to enjoy by the lake.

Unfortunately, the reds of Chelan left me underwhelmed, which I fully admit is a gross generalization based on a small sample size. Many I found to be altered too much by oak – with loads of mocha and toasty vanilla flavors that overpowered any varietal characteristics. Other reds were too thin, watery and lacking flavor and interest. Yes, I realize I sound like Goldilocks with my “too much” or “too little” whining. However, I have found over the years that young wine regions come along slowly (see in particular the Okanagan Valley region in British Columbia) and improve in an almost Darwinian fashion of winemaker trial and error as to what works and what doesn’t.  Chelan Estate Winery

With all of that said, I have an immense amount of respect for those in the region who are willing to experiment with different varieties and clones in Lake Chelan AVA. For instance, Pinot Noir doesn’t grow particularly well in Eastern Washington, and I just don’t know if my beloved home state has it in us to produce a great Pinot. But some winemakers (I’m looking at you Bob Broderick from Chelan Estate Winery) aren’t willing to accept this as gospel and are out to prove me wrong. Bob and others continue to work toward a grape that rivals its much celebrated Oregon brethren. Of course, I’d love nothing more than to be proven wrong and would happily eat crow in so doing….I’ve heard it pairs very well with Pinot!

But until that time, here’s the outline on Lake Chelan.

Red Mountain AVA

Back when I was growing up in Richland, Washington, Red Mountain was a place where we high school kids would occasionally drive out to for a kegger. It was also where I got my parents’ car stuck in the desert trying to find said kegger. Who knew that a 1983 Volvo sedan wasn’t an off-road vehicle?

Today, Red Mountain is home to some of the top vineyards and wineries in the state of Washington . . . and some might argue the country.

Kiona vineyard
View of Kiona Vineyards – some of the first planted in the AVA

Red Mountain produces powerful, structured, intensely flavorful and tannic wines. Often with a big price tag to match. This might have to do with the fact that the cost of doing business in the area has increased exponentially from its inception. Back when the “pioneers” of the area, Jim Holmes and John Williams, bought land to try their hands at viticulture, they were able to purchase at around $200/acre. Fast forward almost 40 years – at a land auction a few years ago, the price point was over $12K/acre. And some prized acres have sold at over $30K/acre.

Ah, if only I’d spent my allowance money during the 1980s and 90s on real estate instead of clothes at Jay Jacobs. 😉

Red Mountain AVA has an incredible following with loyal (sometimes bordering on rabid) fans. My customers tend to go gaga over Red Mountain wines – they like a bold, in-your-face, red wine. But even though it’s located around the corner from where I grew up, and I DO have an affinity for the area, it doesn’t produce my favorite Washington wines. Unlike my customers, I don’t like to be slapped upside the head by my wine. I prefer something more subtle, with less heat and ripeness (Walla Walla Valley and Horse Heaven Hills come to mind).

Nonetheless, I’m proud of this AVA and the fact that its recognized by wine lovers outside the borders of Washington. And I’m looking forward to drinking the Red Mountain wines that are tucked away in my cellar . . . in a couple decades when they’ve had a chance to mellow out and mature. They’ll be 25+ years old by then, and no longer the loud and aggressive teenagers driving around boldly looking for the kegger.

Here’s the outline on Red Mountain.

Ancient Lakes AVA

It’s the waning weeks of summer, but we’ve (thankfully!) still had plenty of sunny and toasty days here in the PNW. Although I drink whites consistently year-round, it’s during this time of year that I often reach for them to refresh and cool down. I don’t want anything heavy or serious. Just pour me a crisp, uncomplicated porch pounder and I’m good to sit on the deck (or in my bedroom with A/C) for hours.

I love acid bomb whites. Gramercy Cellars’ Picpoul (which appropriately translates to “lip stinger”) is one of my favorite summer staples. Both wines below are reminiscent of this wine, but both really push the boundaries of acidity. They’re on the edge of being too much.

Since I had these wines back to back, and noticed that they were both from the same region, I was curious as to why these had such high acidity. What is it about Ancient Lakes that produces such bright & zesty white wines? What else does this region produce? What makes this region special and unique?

central_WA_ancient_lakes
Ancient Lake AVA boundaries

Palencia Albariño 2016, Ancient Lakes AVA. 12.5% abv. Pale lemon. Aromas of lemon, chalk, and wet stones. Lighter bodied, high acidity with flavors of lemon, tart yellow pear and lime zest. This is a super easy to drink wine, but not necessarily one to sit and ponder. It’s fairly simple. Zippy and refreshing.

Wines

Efeste ‘Feral’ Evergreen Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Ancient Lakes AVA. 12.5% abv. More of a pale lemon-green hue on this wine. On the nose, grapefruit, grass, lime zest and herbal notes. Same on the palate, but with a touch of salinity. And holy acidity!

Here’s my outline on the Ancient Lakes AVA – an area you definitely want to check out if you like crisp whites, and reds with a good dose of acidity as well.