In June 2008, Richard Betts, one of the handful of Master Sommeliers in the state of Colorado, ended his eight-year run at the Little Nell, saying he was retiring from restaurants forever. Since then, he's moved his base to Boulder, where he's gotten into both wine production, with Betts & Scholl, and mezcal-making, under his Sombra label.
But he has a few more exciting projects in the works, including another wine label, a book -- and something restaurant-related.
While Betts will still own Sombra with Charles Bieler -- they'll move production to a newer, more efficient Oaxacan production facility in a week -- Betts and his wine-making partner, Dennis Scholl, sold their label to Castle Brands in 2009. Betts stayed on there as an employee, and remains intimately involved with the production process. Last October, he also worked with the company to create CC:, a value brand that he describes as penance for a hangover in South Beach, after which he vowed to never again drink bad wine.
Plus, "it was a chance for me to push on my 'ism' that wine is a grocery, not a luxury," he says. "This makes that true for more people." He produces a Monterrey Chardonnay and a Napa Cabernet under that brand and, fittingly, both are labeled with the sentence "I will not drink bad wine" scrawled a hundred times, as if written on a chalkboard for punishment.
His first bottling of the new juice sold out almost immediately, but he's bottling the second run next week, and says it'll be on the market the week after that.
That's not the only thing Betts is releasing this year, either. He's got a book in the works, and not a didactic tome on regional characteristics or soil types, either. "I don't want it to be like any wine book that's ever come before," he says. "That's not what drinking wine is about. If you're in Portugal or France, wine is poured out of the pitcher and into a tumbler. That's the goal."
So instead, he created what looks like a kid's book for adults: "It's a twenty-page board book where you scratch and sniff your way to expertise." Specifically, the book seeks to help consumers understand the characteristics of wines that excite them -- and then make wine decisions based on that new knowledge. "We want to get it to a place where you can take it to, say, Oprah, who can scratch and sniff her way to what she likes," he says.
Sounds pretty freakin' cool. The book should be out later this year.
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As for restaurants, Betts came out of retirement to help LA-based LaMill Coffee Boutique craft its wine list, after connecting with owners Craig Min and Jean Shim-Min through Pizzeria Basta, which sells LaMill beans. "It's still not my main thing to do," he says of the wine-list consultation. "But those guys are so compelling. They approach coffee with a wine perspective. It was really awesome."
This might not be a one-off, because Betts hints that his exit from restaurants may not be permanent, after all: "I keep saying I'm not ever gonna get back into the restaurant business, but I do have an idea percolating that could make a liar out of me." The concept, if it comes to fruition, would be based in Boulder.