Spotlight On: Betz Family Winery

By Kori ~ April 27th, 2010.

Betz Family Winery, located in Woodinville, Washington, was founded by winemaker Bob Betz and his wife Cathy. They have grown steadily since their inception, from producing 150 cases of their first vintage in 1997 to currently producing around 3,500 cases, which is the level they plan to maintain. Betz Family Winery remains a small family operation with just five full-time employees. Bob is the winemaker, Cathy is the president and handles the winery’s business affairs, their daughter Carmen handles all sales and mailing list administration and deliveries, Tyson Schiffner is the assistant winemaker, and Mandy Bossard is the customer service coordinator.

Bob Betz is one of the most well-respected winemakers in the State of Washington. He spent 28 years working for Chateau Ste. Michelle/Stimson Lane and retired in 2003 as Vice-President of Winemaking Research to focus his efforts on Betz Family Winery. He is one of only 279 Masters of Wine in the world. As a winemaker, Bob strives for purity, elegance, and balance in his wines. Across the board, his wines are food-friendly and exhibit an Old World style yet are a complete expression of Columbia Valley fruit.

“Cathy and I spent a year in the vineyards of Europe in the 70’s. My mother is southern Italian. It had an influence. We were always around the table. We just love French and Italian. We speak the languages, go there as often as we can, and are Euro-centric in our cultural-thinking. But ultimately, the wines have to be an expression of the Columbia Valley. Solid winemaking principles and solid grape growing principles are going to lead us down the path we want to follow.” –Bob Betz, MW, owner/winemaker Betz Family Winery

We first met Bob and Cathy during their 2007 vintage Rhone-style wines release weekend last fall. Recently, we had the pleasure to visit Betz Family Winery again. Bob took us on a tour of the winery and tasted us through his two 2007 Bordeaux-style blends that were released last month as well as three not-yet-released Syrahs from the 2008 vintage.

Betz Family Winery got its start in the winery warehouse district in Woodinville while Bob was still working for Chateau Ste. Michelle. Even though he has been making top quality wines from the beginning, Bob believes that his winemaking has gotten even better in their current winery facilities. Their own winery building, just down the hill from Bob and Cathy’s home, was finished just in time for the 2005 harvest. Bob’s astute wine knowledge and attention to detail is evident in the construction of the facility. He emphasizes that sanitation has made a real difference at this facility. Everything slopes to the drains and all the walls are washable and sprayable. No wood was used in the construction of the cellar; it is all metal and concrete. The winery building houses two barrel rooms (a first year cellar and a second year cellar) as well as a bottle storage room. It is important to Bob to know how his wine is stored once it is bottled.

All the barrels used at Betz Family Winery are French. Bob has experimented with different barrels but always comes back to French barrels for their flavor profile and the subtlety and elegance that he gets out of them. Even so, Betz wines spend a shorter time in barrel than wines from many other wineries. The Rhone-style wines spend only one year in barrel while the Bordeaux-style blends spend 16 to 17 months in barrel. The shorter time in barrel helps the wines retain vigorous fruit and avoid oxidation and oxidative influences. Bob acknowledges that his is a more reductive winemaking style but hopes that the result is more vibrant fruit. Once the wines have been bottled, they remain at the winery for just about a year before they are released.

“Washington wines have such a potential for developing bottle aromatics that I like to give them that shot.” –Bob Betz, MW, owner/winemaker Betz Family Winery

Since Bob truly believes that his wines start in the vineyard, Betz Family Winery has gotten very specific about its fruit sourcing. Every grape that comes in comes from a specific geographical area that the winery farms in Washington’s Columbia Valley. Bob works closely with each vineyard owner and vineyard manager from whom he sources fruit. It is a collaborative effort based on mutual respect.

We found both of the recently released 2007 Bordeaux-style blends to be excellent but were especially impressed with the Père de Famille Cabernet Sauvignon. It truly is an outstanding wine. The fruit sources for the Père de Famille are 74% Red Mountain (Ciel de Cheval, Klipsun, and Kiona), 17% Horse Heaven Hills (Alder Ridge), and 9% Yakima Valley (Red Willow). The Clos de Betz comes from 39% Red Mountain (Ciel du Cheval), 33% Horse Heaven Hills (Alder Ridge), and 28% Yakima Valley (Red Willow).

“Of my 35 years in Washington, the 2007 vintage is in my top three. The thing about 2007 is that there was a very even growing season. It ranks right up there with the best vintages for dimension, expression, and complexity.” –Bob Betz, MW, owner/winemaker Betz Family Winery

We also tasted three not-yet-released Syrahs from the 2008 vintage. Typically, we do not publish our ratings of wines that have not been released but are making an exception in this case because we found all three Syrahs to be excellent and only expect them to improve between now and their release this fall. The best of the three, in our opinion, was also our favorite in the 2007 vintage and happens to be the newest addition to the Betz portfolio, the La Côte Patriarche Syrah. The fruit for it comes from the 1986 Syrah block at Red Willow Vineyard, the oldest Syrah planting in the State of Washington. The name of this wine, which translates as “the founder’s slope”, is a nod to Red Willow owner/grower, Mike Sauer, and former Columbia Winery winemaker, David Lake, who planted those original Syrah vines. The La Serenne Syrah has been farmed from the same block in Boushey Vineyard since 2000. The La Côte Rousse Syrah is sourced from two vineyards about a mile apart from each other on Red Mountain, Ciel du Cheval and Ranch at the End of the Road.

The majority of Betz wines are sold through their mailing list, which closed in 2008. However, they do hold back some wine for local wine shops and restaurants and have five small distributors nationally. Betz Family Winery is only open to the public twice a year for their release weekends. If you drive by the winery on a non-release day, you will likely miss it completely. There is no signage on the street, the driveway, or the winery building. The reason is right there in the name of the winery…family. By not having signage or a tasting room, they are able to have more personal time especially with their home located on the same property. But having more personal time does not mean less time spent on their customers. In fact, a majority of their time is spent focusing on their mailing list and working very hard at customer service, and that effort definitely shows.

2007 Bordeaux-Style Blends:

2007 Betz Père de Famille Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley, Washington): 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 7% Mourvedre. Dense, deep, inky purple, almost black in color. Gorgeous nose with black currant, smoke, and blackberry aromas. Dark, dark black fruits and a hint of vanilla come through on the palate. Good fruit up front, filling mid-palate, and high, yet silky, tannins. Big and bold and extremely well-balanced with a long, lingering finish.
Quality: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to Buy: Winery, $60

2007 Betz Clos de Betz Red Wine (Columbia Valley, Washington): 62% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot. Dark, deep, inky purple. Beautiful aromas and flavors of spice, black cherry, black currant, cola, and a hint of cocoa. Medium to full-bodied with smooth tannins and a long finish.
Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 3 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to Buy: Winery, $45

2008 Rhone-Style Wines (to be released in the Fall):

2008 Betz La Côte Patriarche Syrah (Red Willow Vineyard, Yakima Valley, Washington): Beautiful, inky purple-black. Gorgeous nose with black fruit, smoke, floral, beef jerky, and spice aromas. Luscious black fruits on the palate. Medium to full-bodied with medium to high tannins and a long, lingering finish. Pure, clean, great complexity, and well-balanced.
Quality: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to Buy: Winery, $55

2008 Betz La Serenne Syrah (Boushey Vineyard, Yakima Valley, Washington): Inky, purple-black in color. Smoke, black fruits, and wild game on the nose and palate. Medium to full-bodied and smooth with medium tannins and a long finish.
Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 2 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to Buy: Winery, $55

2008 Betz La Côte Rousse Syrah (Red Mountain, Washington): Fruit from Ciel du Cheval Vineyard and Ranch at the End of the Road Vineyard. Inky, purple-black. Aromas of earth, smoke, flowers, and a hint of barnyard lead to flavors of beef jerky, game, and soy. Medium-bodied with medium tannins and a long finish.
Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 2 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to Buy: Winery, $55

Filed under: American Wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, Five-Bangs For Your Buck Wines, Red Wine, Shiraz/Syrah, Spotlight On, Washington State Wine, Wines Over $25

Reader's Comments

  1. @nectarwine | April 27th, 2010 at 8:15 am

    Excellent work, Wine Peeps. One of the star wine makers and quality wines in all of Washington. I appreciate your insight and depth of knowledge here!


  2. rob newsom | April 27th, 2010 at 9:08 am

    Great story on Betz! Thanks!!

  3. Kori | April 27th, 2010 at 9:52 am

    Josh and Rob,
    Thanks. Glad you enjoyed the story. Cheers!