About Betz Family Vineyards
Bob Betz spent more than 25 years in a variety of positions for Château Ste. Michelle. He's got the experience, and, as one of a handful of American Masters of Wine, a nice certificate on the wall. At Betz Family Cellars, he makes some of Washington's richest and most complete red wines from Bordeaux varieties. Betz's success extends to Syrahs as well; his are at once silky, highly concentrated and wild -- and, along with those of Cayuse, more Rhone-like in style than any others in Washington State. Grapes are sourced from several growers in the Columbia Valley, specifically the Yakima Valley, Horse Heaven Hills, and Red Mountain, at sites where growers cooperate with Bob's field team. The construction of a new winery in 2005 has allowed him to increase production, but his time here may be limited. In 2011 Bob and his wife, Cathy, sold the winery to Steve and Bridgit Griessel, with Bob slated to remain as winemaker for another five years.
The proliferation of new wineries in Washington State has slowed in the past couple of years, but the landscape today is radically different from even 15 years ago. As recently as the early 1990s the Washington wine scene was dominated by a few large players who also owned a high percentage of planted vineyard land. Today, most of the excitement is being generated by small, quality-minded wineries, and the industrial-scale producers are mostly competing at the low end of the market.
Cabernet and Merlot are Washington's most serious and successful varieties, with Syrah rapidly increasing in popularity thanks to the efforts of some talented newcomers. Red wine is generally growing as a percentage of total production of premium wines, even if Riesling still has considerable commercial importance.
Most of Washington's grapes are grown in the desert east of the Cascade mountains, in the Columbia and Yakima River Valleys, where annual rainfall is so low that the vineyards must be irrigated. The vines in Washington benefit from long daylight hours during the summer, and a longer growing season than California (grapes are usually picked well into October). Although daytime temperatures can be quite hot, frequently surpassing 100 degrees, generally cool September nights allow the grapes to retain healthy acidity, resulting in wines with noteworthy intensity of varietal character. The greatest threat to grape-growing in Washington is winter frost, which can sometimes be severe enough to kill vines, as it did during the winters of 1996 and 2004.