The fertile soil in Eastern Washington for decades had long been ignored by both winemakers and growers outside of the state.
Bob and Cathy Betz founded Redmond’s Betz Family Winery in 1997 to help export wines made in Washington to the rest of the world.
Bob Betz is a master of wine, one of only around 300 across the globe, and the current winery owner, Steve Griessel, said Betz is the only one in the U.S.
Betz spent years working for one of the state’s most prolific wineries, Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville, before founding his own.
“The whole history of the winery was to be a limited-production winery attempting to make some of the world’s best wines, and to make sure that we are excellent ambassadors for Washington state,” Griessel said.
The Griessels purchased the winery from the Betz family around seven years ago, but Betz still acts as a wine adviser.
The Griessels moved to the U.S. from South Africa around 16 years ago, and said the decision to relocate to the Pacific Northwest following the winery purchase was a great decision.
“We love it, firstly, we love the quality of wines, to be able to make them, and we have such excellent growing conditions in Eastern Washington,” Steve Griessel said.
The winery’s flagship bottle is Pere de Famille, and is a Cabernet Savingnon.
Griessel said it is made by hand-selecting the best barrels of Cabernet Savingon, Merlot and Petit Verdot they produce in any given year.
“We take months to select the barrels which are even going to be considered for the blend, and then we take months to make the blend,” he said.
The winery produces around 6,000 cases of wine a year, which it mails to its list of customers before selling the surplus to restaurants.
Beside selling around the U.S., Griessel said they export to around 15 countries.
The winery has some 40 blocks of vineyards around the state they buy from, and Griessel said they are heavily involved in the growth of the grapes.
During harvest season, they make up to two trips a week to vineyards.
Many of these are located in Eastern Washington where there can be more than 17 hours of sunlight daily during the growing season.
“It’s really a story of this incredible place that we have to grow our grapes,” he said, which is only surpassed domestically by California.
Louis Skinner is the head winemaker, and said their current winery was finished in 2005 just before the harvest.
The winery is built on a hillside and has underground barrel storage.
He said the Betz decided to focus on Cabernet Savingnon because the grapes grow so well in the state.
“It’s a good home for it, it makes a very distinctive style of Cabernet Savingnon,” he said.
The wine they produce strikes a balance between old-world wines and those coming out of Napa Valley in California, he said.
Betz Family Winery makes other blends as well, including other Bordeaux-style wines along with Rhone styles.
Skinner also said their attention to detail at every step of the process sets them apart.
“We don’t just work with growers and say OK we want three tons of Cabernet at the end of the season, we work with the farmers,” he said.
All the winery’s fermentation happens in small batches of 1- to 2-ton lots and when pressed, they keep the fermenters separate.
During following one or two years while the wine is barrel aging, they are tasted between two to five times.
“It really gives us an opportunity to bring that detail to the blending table and eventually to the bottled wine, and to the consumer,” Skinner said.
At the end of the day, Griessel said they still owe the quality of the wines to the winery’s founder, Bob Betz.
“It’s an incredible privilege to have him involved in the winery today,” he said. “He truly is one of the fathers of the wine industry, so it’s very exciting. It’s a privilege to have him on board.”
The winery is located at 13244 Redmond-Woodinville Road N.E.