Bob Betz is one of the best known figures of Washington wine and has been involved in the industry since it started to reach the world stage over 40 years ago. After training in Europe, Bob worked for 28 years at Washington’s foremost producer Chateau St. Michelle, and then began his own boutique winery – Betz Family Winery – which continues today. In this Bob Betz interview, we ask him about how Washington’s wine industry has changed over the last 40 years and where he sees it going in the future. Bob gives his perspective on what makes Washington’s Columbia Valley unique, and what varieties are best suited to the terroir – as well as comparing them to their international counterparts.
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Clip excerpt for the hearing impaired:
Amanda Barnes: What were some of the biggest misconceptions about Washington wine at the beginning?
Bob Betz: Early on Washington was perceived as north, cold and wet. Everyone sort of thought that we were just real close to Alaska, that all it did was rain, and that it was pretty freezing temperatures here. And the truth is, if you look at where the vineyard regions of Washington are, they are in the shadow of the Cascade mountains, this enormous mountain range that has peaks of up to 14,000 feet or probably 3500 meters that block the cool and wet weather systems from coming off the Pacific Ocean, making the vineyard area of Washington a much drier, warmer, and hospitable spot to grow classic vinifera varieties.
AB: What is the kind of variety, or diversity of the region that we find?
BB: Oh, you’ll find 30 or 40 different varieties growing here in Washington but at the top of the list for me, for reds it is Cabernet Sauvignon, followed probably by Syrah, Merlot, some of the southern Rhone varieties. For whites, Riesling and Chardonnay. I arm wrestle with myself all the time of which of the two I prefer from Washington, but you also have to throw in Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, and Chenin Blanc, and Gewustraminer, they are all grown here and we are having a whole lot of fun playing with these lesser varieties. That being said, I’ll still go back to the classics – Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot…