Betts & Scholl, the boutique winery founded by master sommelier Richard Betts and art collector Dennis Scholl, has been sold to spirits company Castle Brands for $1.1 million, plus 7.14 million shares of the corporation. As part of the deal, Betts and Scholl will join the company, with Betts heading up Castle Brands' new wine division as vice president.
A few years ago, Betts was best known as wine director of Montagna, the Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning restaurant at the Little Nell in Aspen, Colo. Their project may be the only winery founded on a mushroom-picking excursion. Scholl, a Miami-based investor, was a frequent diner and friend. "We became friends and drank wine together," Betts told Wine Spectator in 2006. "One afternoon when we were out hunting mushrooms, I was describing how I really wanted to make wine. I wasn't even pitching him the idea, but he said, 'I want to do it.'"
They began looking for old-vine Grenache vineyards in Australia and partnered with local winemaker Christian Canute, who made the first wines in 2001 with Betts' input at his small winery, Rusden. The wines quickly showed promise, with two 2003 Grenaches from Barossa Valley scoring 93 and 90 points. They later added an Australian Riesling, and partnered with winemaker Randy Lewis in California to produce a Syrah and with Jean-Louis Chave in the Rhône to produce a Hermitage.
But they found the logistical needs of growth a bit tiring. "Dennis and I have been unable to keep up with the enthusiasm and demand," said Betts. Scholl points out that while their "virtual winery" worked well when they were small, at 5,000 cases a year and growing they needed help.
Castle is a small spirits company best known for Gosling's Rum, Jefferson Bourbon and Boru Vodka. The company wanted to add a wine division focusing on small wineries.
Scholl will join the board of directors. As vice president and head of the wine division, Betts will look for new wineries to add to the import and marketing portfolio. He says he is already in talks with a few winery owners but could not disclose names yet. They are hoping to start in France, Italy, California and Washington state. "The idea is to find producers who want to share their special part of the world," he said.