WOODINVILLE, Wash. – What could well be the first partnership between Washington’s and South Africa’s wine industries is with one of Woodinville’s pre-eminent wineries.
The partnership is called Quinta Essentia, a Latin phrase that means “Fifth Element.” The first release is a 2015 Chenin Blanc that retails for $40 per bottle. About 600 cases were produced, blending grapes from four vineyards.
“This is incredible,” said Steve Griessel, owner of Betz Family Winery with his wife, Bridgit, both of whom are South Africans. “Chenin Blanc is quintessentially South African: distinctive, aromatic, intense on the palate and with an acid backbone that leaves you wanting more.”
DeMorgenzon’s winemaking history goes back to 1699 and today is led by owner Wendy Appelbaum. The head-trained vines – called “bush vines” in South Africa – average 40 to 60 years old and yield a mere 2 tons per acre.
“It’s a great legacy for us to work with,” Griessel told Great Northwest Wine.
The idea of the partnership was spawned in 2013, when the Griessels traveled to South Africa with founders Bob and Cathy Betz. It was the Betz’s first visit to the region. Betz, a Master of Wine who has been in the Washington wine industry for more than 40 years, was astonished by what he saw and tasted.
“Quinta Essentia emphatically confirms why Chenin Blanc is one of the world’s great white grape varieties,” Betz stated in a news release. “This is not the overcropped, insipid quaffer that Chenin has most often become in the U.S. This is old vine Chenin Blanc, conscientiously grown in a unique site, crafted by a skilled artisan.”
Quinta Essentia an international collaboration
While the winemaking for Quinta Essentia was led by Carl van de Merwe, the entire Betz Family Winery team was heavily involved.
“We set the philosophy for the winemaking with them,” Griessel said. “Our entire team was over there. We are integrally involved. People have wondered why we’ve been going to South Africa so much.”
This also is the first white wine for the Betz team, which has focused entirely on Bordeaux and Rhône variety reds since its inception in 1997.
“People have always asked we’ll do a white wine,” Griessel said. “We’ve said that if we do, it will be surprising.”
He added that it is highly unlikely that Betz Family Winery would try a similar project with Washington grapes, noting that South African Chenin Blanc is completely different than anything grown in Washington.
For Betz, this is far from being his first global collaboration.
In 1999, he was an executive at Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and was an integral part of the team that worked with famed German winemaker Ernst Loosen. In that case, Loosen wanted to make a Washington Riesling, and the resulting project was Eroica, a wine that reinvigorated the American Riesling movement.
A few years prior to that, Ste. Michelle launched Col Solare, a partnership with Marchesi Antinori, a winery whose roots go back to the 1380s in Italy. Again, that collaboration focused on using Washington grapes. The first vintage of Col Solare was 1995, and the estate winery and vineyard were established on Red Mountain in 2007.
Griessels taking Betz Family Winery in new directions
The Quinta Essentia wine will first be made available to Betz Family Winery mailing list members and available at the winery’s open house this weekend. Quinta Essentia winemaker van der Merwe will be at the Woodinville winery this weekend.
Stellenbosch is considered South Africa’s most famous winemaking region. Griessel described it as South Africa’s equivalent to Napa Valley. It is on the Western Cape near Cape Town and has a winemaking history that goes back to the 1670s.
Quinta Essentia is another new direction for Betz Family Winery, one that likely would never have been taken before the Griessels purchased the iconic Washington winery.
In 2013, Griessel tried to purchase property on Red Mountain during a now-famous land auction that saw more than 670 acres bought by a Canadian company. In 2014, he purchased land in SeVein, a vineyard development on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley. The vineyard was planted earlier this year.
He partnered with Kevin White of Siren Song Wines, a Lake Chelan winery, on the SeVein vineyard. They also purchased Old Stones, an established vineyard in The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater in the Walla Walla Valley.
Earlier this summer, Betz’s five-year contract with the Griessels as winemaker ended. He has chosen to stay on as consulting winemaker for the foreseeable future. Betz’s protégé, Louis Skinner, was named head winemaker in June. Skinner, a graduate of South Seattle College’s winemaking program, also has worked at acclaimed DeLille Cellars.
All of this is the Griessels exploring new directions now that they have become more comfortable and confident five years after purchasing the business. And Betz is perfectly happy with his namesake winery’s evolution.
“I’m good with all of that,” he told Great Northwest Wine. “We all must move on. It’s a great way for Steve and Bridgit to move the winery on to the next logical step. This is a good way for them to put their signature on Betz.”