The news came suddenly. A phone call from Bob Betz, followed by an official press release. After several months of negotiations, Bob and Cathy Betz, who founded their Betz Family Winery in 1997, have sold the winery, its equipment and inventory, to Steve and Bridgit Griessel of Phoenix, Arizona.
Calling it a partnership rather than an out-and-out sale, Betz explains that he and Cathy, the winery's President, will be retained as part of the management and operations team. He will continue to serve as winemaker, responsible for making the wines for at least another five years.
Here is how new owner Steve Griessel defines the partnership: “Bridgit and I have been searching for a high-end, west-coast family winery; Betz Family, with its relationships with prime Washington vineyards, winemaking philosophy, customer service attitude and financial success, is the gem we were looking for. Our plan is to build on the Betz track record of great wine quality as well as on the unique personal style in which they have contributed to the industry over the years. The Betz ‘stamp’ will be apparent throughout the winery well into the future.”
Bob Betz, who holds an MW degree – wine's highest credential – started the winery while serving as the Vice President in charge of education at Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Almost universally regarded as one of this country's greatest winemakers, he told me “I'll still be the winemaker but not have to worry about the day to day business things, the payroll, etc. I will do the vineyard work, the crush, the blends... I get to do the fun stuff. I don't see a lot changing in terms of winemaking, vineyard sources, stuff in the cellar, protocol. I'm actually very excited about it. And we'll be able to carve out the one thing that has eluded us – time.”
In an e-mail interview, Steve Griessel confirmed that there would be no changes to the team or winemaking philosophy. “Our plan is to continue on the path that Bob and Cathy have set for the business. I believe the key elements of this are: the quest for exceptional wines, no short cuts, continuing to partner with the best growers, excellent customer service, attention to detail, a family culture, being ambassadors for Washington wines and a grounded sense of humility. We will therefore continue to grow the business patiently and keep the intense focus it has.”
Steve and Bridgit Griessel moved to the US from South Africa nine years ago, where Steve co-founded Tourism Investment Corporation Limited (Tourvest), a publicly traded company in sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian Ocean islands, and Bridgit launched BY Design, which provided marketing and advertising services to clients in South Africa. More recently, they have founded Live Africa, a company offering luxury safari tours.
Griessel, 51, admits to having “no previous experience running a business in the wine industry. The key to this for my wife and I,” he emphasizes, "is that Bob is staying on for many years. Both families already feel very comfortable with each other. I have run many different types of companies. I have studied the industry carefully and have a good feel for the pitfalls and how tough it is to be successful. The entire team is remaining on at Betz and we will lean on them heavily as we learn the business, connect with our peers and customers and ask a lot of questions.”
The Griessels plan on moving to Woodinville as full time residents in the near future.
Thursday, April 07, 2011