Third Party Perspective – Richard Betts

Sombra-Mezcal-BottleI first met Master Sommelier Richard Betts in Atlanta over a few bottles of his Sombra Mezcal.  After the bottles were emptied, we adjourned to a hipster beer bar where Richard earned a dirty look from our waitress by ordering a Tecate.
“We don’t carry Tecate”
“OK, give me whatever tastes like a Tecate”
I’m not sure how much Richard actually likes Tecate, but he wasn’t done with the subject – Read his article ‘Why Tecate is Greater Than Orange Wine’ at Forbes.com.
Earlier that day, before getting deep into Mezcal sampling, Richard and I had been in the thick of tasting and contemplating Stolpman Syrah. At the time, I had no idea of Richard Betts’ grand scheme, to create a red blend that would marry his beloved Clos Rougeard.
Cabernet Franc based wines with Trevallon Syrah-Cabernet wines. After a life-time of extensive tasting, Richard had decided the ideal place for his blending pursuit was the Santa Ynez Valley. And here, he set out to answer his question, “How would the child of Rougeard and Trevallon taste?”
Of course, Richard isn’t being literal here. Throughout talking to him, “sense of place” always rises to the top of long lists of why he loves wine.
When Richard wants to make a wine of place, he goes to his favorite vineyard and strikes a deal to make a wine from that particular hillside. It still boggles my mind that a decade ago, Betts strolled up to his friend Jean Louise Chave and started making Hermitage there. He’s also the guy who showed up to Oaxaca, Mexico and picked his favorite organic agave farms for Sombra.
richardbetts_1332862726_600So the question becomes, “Why Santa Ynez Valley?” When the guy can obviously go anywhere and do whatever he wants!
Richard explains that the site-specific variance for wines made in different vineyards within such a concentrated area drew him here. The fact that interesting Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc can be made just 10 miles away from Stolpman’s Syrah meant that Richard could combine the pursuit of a Rougeard-Trevallon love-child but still establish a sense of one place, or at least one small area.
While the site variance is necessary to make the different varietals, Richard liked the common threads of Santa Ynez Valley. All of the vineyards he chose proved to him that “girth and grace are not mutually exclusive.”
In California, one can find “girth” in Cabernet virtually everywhere, but he became excited when he found it intersecting with graceful notes when he made it to SYV.
Richard already knew Stolpman Vineyards and the style of wine Sashi Moorman makes from the place. Most compelling to him are the pretty, high toned, floral elements. “The wines are fun, yet detailed. Stolpman Syrah’s fine grain and sophisticated Tannins provide finessed textures; especially important when blending with even more tannic varietals.”
downloadHe knew this profile would be a great marriage for the blend. Stolpman Syrah rounds the wine without adding weight. Because Richard didn’t want jammy and port like Syrah to stand out against the other varietals, he was thrilled to close the Syrah purchase from me over all that Sombra Mezcal.  Now I understand the negotiation techniques that have served him so well internationally!
Richard calls the final product My Essential Red.
The name relates to his upcoming book The essential scratch and sniff guide to wine expertise. The book will be released in October 2013 and I can only assume it sets out to make the complex world of wine a bit less stuffy. Always the busy man, Richard is also making My Essential Rose from Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah sourced in Provence.
In yet another attempt to make wine more approachable and fun, Mr. Betts has a new winery in Bordeaux called Chateau GlinGlin “When Pigs Fly”. The winery’s cornerstone: to break the current oxymoron “affordable Bordeaux” with a $20 Cote du Franc and a $34 St. Emillon Grand Cru.
astralWhen I last spoke with Richard he had just stepped off a plane from Jalisco where he is supervising his Tequila brand Astral.
Just like his other projects, Richard is focused on a sense of place. This time, he found his place at 6000ft on the Western Highlands, using old-school breeds of blue agave that don’t need synthetic herbicide. Bucking the trend in the name of quality, he natively ferments Astral Tequila and pot distills it to 92 proof, paying the extra taxes so he doesn’t have to dilute his product with water.
Talking with Richard always revitalizes me. He never says it so bluntly, but I sum up his attitude as “do everything right, madly pursue quality, but never be snobby about it.” Pretty awesome credo for a boutique wine business.
We parted ways after chatting about trendy “wild foraged Mezcal”. Richard’s response was, “yes, we utilize it a bit, but only in tiny batches for personal consumption and gifts. The second we commercialize foraging down there, all of the wild agave will be cut down.”
Richard is yet another grape customer I’m proud to have buying Stolpman Syrah fruit!