Bob Betz, Seattle native (Blanchett High, UW grad in zoology), outgoing yet reflective, and a gifted communicator, became the official spokesman for Chateau Ste. Michelle and the unofficial public face of Washington's wine industry. He was a sort of politburo ideologue at Ste. Michelle, with the grandiose title of Vice President for Enology and Research, the one who kept the winery's focus on wine, wine, wine. And when he left Ste. Michelle (where he had hired me) in the mid-1990s, it was to start his own 1,200-case operation, Betz Family Winery.
It's been two decades since we worked together, and his beard has more salt than pepper now, but Betz has lost none of his enthusiasm for wine. In recent years he earned the prestigious Master of Wine certification. "Seamless syrahs and cabernets," cooed Wine & Spirits magazine, naming Betz one of the best small wineries in America.
Still, Betz and his wife, Cathy, are now in their 60s and have been thinking about retirement. Their daughters, Carmen and Carla, have both worked in the business but have careers of their own. The exit strategy was to sell, though only to the right buyer. And so, when the South African owners of a private equity firm in Phoenix, Steve and Bridget Griessel (InSync) came along, promising to keep his baby a family-owned company, Betz said yes. An offer he couldn't refuse.
Betz will spend five more years under contract as wine maker, but, as he told Wine Spectator, "Now we can just concentrate on the fun stuff, making wine, instead of talking to insurance agents and finding parts for the coffee machine."