Late the next morning, I meet up with Betts in a park in downtown Aspen where enormous white tents have been set up on the green lawn, and inside hundreds of wineries are giving out samples. Betts doesn't waste time with producers we've all heard of—the Beringers and Kenwoods and Kendall Jacksons of the world. Instead, he zeroes in on a select few, starting with a '94 Kalin Cellars Chardonnay. He tastes and spits. I taste and swallow, because I've tried spitting and can only dribble.
"Isn't this terrific?" he asks.
"It's terrific," I agree.
He moves on to a Sancerre. "Isn't this awesome?" he asks.
"It's awesome," I agree.
I suppose I should be using my fancy wine-tasting vocabulary to describe the Chardonnay, but I'm with a master. What if I detect butterscotch and the wine is actually more green peppery? Better not to risk it. From now on, my strategy is to agree with everything Betts has to say about what he tastes. If I can figure out why he says it, all the better.
"So, Richard," I ask, "do you have a particular philosophy when it comes to wine?"
He stops walking and turns to face me. Betts is six feet tall, thin as a gecko, and has the kind of smiling eyes that make you feel that what matters most to you is what matters most to him, a characteristic I suspect contributes a great deal to his success.
"My philosophy?" he asks. "Wine should be fun. That's the bottom line. People get all freaked out about ordering the right wine"—he rolls his eyes—"but there is no such thing. The right wine is the wine you like. That's it. So find what you like and go for it. You cool with that?"
I tell him I'm cool with that. But my strategy remains the same.
We continue through the tasting tent, which is warming quickly in the summer heat and is beginning to smell like stale wine, damp grass, and suntan lotion. Betts stops every few feet to talk to someone he knows or someone who wants to know him, usually a distributor or winemaker who'd like a coveted spot on his wine list. As Betts gives each new person his full attention, I wonder how he can be so consistently engaging in the face of such outright solicitousness. I don't know any of these people and they're starting to bug me.
After a particularly lengthy conversation with an enthusiastic young woman jingling with turquoise jewelry, he sighs.
"Tell me the truth," he says. "Is it obvious when I get impatient?"
Not at all, I say, relieved to know he's human.
"That's good," he says. Then he picks up a glass of Italian white. He sips and spits. I sip and swallow.
"Isn't this awesome?" he asks.
"Yes," I say. "It's awesome."
And it is.