Betz Family Winery will not release 2020 smoked wines
WOODINVILLE, Washington – Smoke from the Pacific Northwest wildfires during the growing season affected the grapes at Betz Family Winery, so rather than damage the reputation of their famous winery, owners Steven and Bridgit Griessel have stated that they would not be releasing wines from the 2020 vintage.
“We never for a second considered sending faulty wines to customers,” the Griessel’s wrote to Great Northwest Wine. “Although it was brutal to have to do this, the decision was easy.”
The South African natives, who bought the winery from Bob and Cathy Betz in 2011, have also announced that they will not be releasing 2020 wines under the SuNu brand, their young project featuring Pinot Noir from Willamette. Valley in Oregon.
In Washington, the Griessels and winemaker Louis Skinner work with some of the state’s most famous wineries and skilled winemakers – a list compiled by Betz, a wine master who continues to consult the vineyard he founded in 1997. during his historic career with Ste. Michelle Wine Estates was drawing to a close.
In Washington, Betz wineries include Seven Hills in the Walla Walla Valley, Ciel du Cheval and the Kiona Family Plantations on Red Mountain, Double Canyon in the Horse Heaven Hills and Boushey, DuBrul, Elephant Mountain, Olsen, Red Willow and Upland in the Yakima Valley.
Betz move to cause concern among others
Without a doubt, any winemaker and winery that has reaped fruit from these sites in 2020 will take notice of Tuesday’s announcement by one of the Northwest’s iconic brands.
“We’ve tasted these wines behind the scenes with producers and other wineries,” the Griessel said. “We will certainly continue to do so so that we can all learn. “
In some recent vintages, fears of producing smoke-affected wines have been cited as the reasons West Coast winemakers have rejected growers’ deliveries of grapes. Last year, some Washington growers cited the mid-October frost spree and refused grapes affected by the frost.
As the harvest approached in 2020, there were uncertainties about the impact of the smoke on the resulting grapes and wines. The relations that the Griessel family have with their winegrowers have encouraged them to honor their wine contracts.
“We decided not to reject any fruit because we felt it would be unfair to our growers as we couldn’t be sure the grapes were ‘smoky’,” the Griessel said.
The grapes therefore arrived at their cellar in Woodinville. In the short term, the results were variable and unpredictable.
“Each lot has been valued from the time it arrived at the cellar,” the Griessel said. “Some grapes smelled of smoke and some didn’t. The winegrowers were careful with the picking, and some had washed the grapes. All fermentations were checked daily and some showed muted tones, but there were no overt smoky tones. “
Finally, Betz Family Winery received data from ETS Laboratories, headquartered in Napa Valley, California.
“We sent each batch to ETS for smoke markers, but ETS had 8,000 samples in front of us, so it took about eight weeks to get the results,” Griessel said. “All lots exhibited varying levels of compounds associated with the smell of smoke. It was not until immediately after the malolactic fermentation that each batch exhibited smoke odor markers to varying degrees.
In most cases, the winemakers returned to the Griessels and adjusted their rates to help Betz Family Winery.
“We made Zoom calls with each of our growers once we performed the sensory analysis and confirmed the presence of a smoke odor. All the producers were empathetic, ”said the Griessel’s. “The vast majority of producers said they were ready to share the pain with us. The growers do not have crop insurance once the grapes are picked, which has been extremely helpful for the Betz family, and we are truly grateful for the close partnerships we have with them.
First pandemic, then wines affected by smoke
Last year, the Griessels sought to reduce their annual output by 7,000 cases at Betz Family Winery due to the pandemic and the devastation of the restaurant industry.
“We had forecast a smaller crop for 2020 due to the loss of our restaurant customers,” they said. “It was difficult for us and for most of the small producers. Fortunately, our direct-to-consumer sales activity remained at similar levels to 2019. ”
Some producers, especially those from the 2017 vintage, ravaged by the fires, have bottled some of their smoke affected wines and used them to teach their fans a story or two about this harvest or the impact of Mother Nature. on a wine.
As a result, Washington State University and the University of California-Davis are researching the short- and long-term effects of wildfires on vineyards, grapes, and wines. The Griessels feared what they would end up finding in their 2020 vintage wines.
“These flaws can range from barely noticeable to very off-putting and can sit dormant in the keg or bottle for months, sometimes even years, before revealing their full impact,” they wrote in a press release. “Not much is known about the exact mechanisms behind the smell of smoke. WSU and UC Davis researchers are working hand-in-hand with wineries and producers to learn more about how the smell of smoke develops, which can be done to protect vineyards that could be exposed to forest fire particles and how to mitigate the damage after exposure has occurred.
Woodward Canyon Winery in Walla Walla decided not to produce their famous Cabernet Sauvignon Old Vines Dedication Series from the 2010 vintage because the cool growing season did not yield many Cabs that met the standards of winemaker / founding owner Rick Small . However, these barrels were simply declassified, not discarded.
“Since harvest, our team had been hoping that some lots could be salvaged, but after countless hours of evaluation, we thought that was our only option,” said Griessel. “The idea that we would release any wine that we had reservations about, or that a wine that we released could start to develop worsening smoke indicators after bottling, was something we didn’t. just couldn’t stand it.
“At the end of the day, our commitment to quality is paramount and something we cannot compromise.”