Nina Buty is a Whitman College graduate that started Buty Winery, located in Walla Walla, in 2000 with Caleb Foster. Buty was born in 1998 when Nina and Caleb were on a backpacking trip in the Cascades. They created their business plan on a napkin to start a winery and focus on different style blends, such as their signature Bordeaux style white blend, sourcing from some of the best vineyards in the state, including Champoux and Conner Lee. Buty debuted in 2000 with five wines. They brought on Zelma Long to do consultant winemaking, and now Chris Dowsett serves as head winemaker. Nina, not only a owner but a mother with small children, continues to run the impressive boutique style of winery that has received accolades from innumerable wine publications. Talented head winemaker Chris Dowsett impressed with his new releases, as Buty are in very good hands with Chris. I recently had the chance to sit down with Nina Buty, owner of Buty Winery. She told me about her story in wine and I think you’ll find this interview as interesting and engaging as I did. Here is my interview with Nina Buty:
WWB: I visited Buty this fall and was very impressed with your overall lineup of wines. Can you talk a bit about the style of winemaking for your red and white wines?
NB: Our winery was founded on a belief in the artistry of the blend. In fact, with the exception of our Conner Lee Vineyard Chardonnay, all of our Buty wines are blends (and even our Conner Lee Chardonnay is approached much like a blend). While each wine has its own distinctive personality that reflects the varietals, the vintage and the vineyards the wines come from, there are certainly common threads that run through our wines, including beautiful aromatics and silky textures. To achieve this, our style of winemaking is very natural, but this does not mean that it is hands off. Though we apply gentle winemaking techniques such as minimal handling, and often uses little-or-no-new oak, every choice made about fermentation, extraction, cooperage, blending, racking and aging is intended to help achieve a stylistic vision. We also don’t do any enhancements, which means we don’t add acid, use dehydrators, concentrators, water additions, spinning cones, or other such “enhancement tools.” This ensures that the authentic character of the wines is rooted in the soil of the sites they come from.
WWB: The Rockgarden Estate vineyard produces some wonderful earthy and terroir-driven red wines. Can you talk more about the vineyard in terms of the soil and climate? What are the typical characters in the wines produced from this vineyard?
NB: In 2006, after years of searching for the ideal site to establish an estate vineyard, we purchased 10 acres of land in the Milton-Freewater Fan region of Walla Walla Valley. For over a hundred years, this region has been the valley’s most coveted farming land, and over the past two decades it has earned a reputation for being home to some of Walla Walla Valley’s greatest vineyards. In fact, this past year, The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater earned official status as an American Viticultural Area—a process that we were actively involved in. Our own Rockgarden Estate is named in honor of the famous basalt cobblestones that help to make this section in the southeast part of the valley such renowned winegrowing land. These rocks amplify, and radiate back, heat from the sun. In addition, Rockgarden Estate is ideally situated in the highest part of the cobblestones. These factors, and others, contribute to wines that have beautiful lush fruit characteristics at relatively modest alcohol levels, but also wonderful savory qualities. Along with enticing lavender and violet aromas, Rockgarden yields these really fascinating beach smoke notes that hint at sea spray. As the vines evolve, these qualities are becoming more and more complex, and even more compelling.
WWB: Can you talk a bit about your background in wine and how you decided to start Buty in 2000?
NB: I was born in Seattle, Washington, and grew up in various parts of the state. I fell in love with the pace, climate and people of Eastern Washington early on, and attended Whitman College, where I earned a degree in art history, with minors in studio art and geology. While I wasn’t consciously aware of it at the time, what I was studying laid a really strong foundation for my future in wine. I was also developing a real love of wine, most significantly Washington wine, and its amazing potential. After several years of working in public service, I founded Buty in 2000. For me, the creation of wine was a natural extension of my background in art and geology. It also allowed me to combine my desire to work with nature in a creative way.
From the outset, our goal has been to make exceptional wines that showcase masterful blending, while being true to their Washington roots and the great vineyards they come from. Working with our longtime Winemaker Chris Dowsett, and our good friend Zelma Long, I think we’ve stayed very true to those ideals.
WWB: I am also a Whitman grad and I feel like the balance of education at Whitman prepared me well for my business life. Can you talk about how your educational background has influenced your ability to run a successful winery that has gained a very strong national reputation?
NB: To expand a bit on my last answer, I would just say that for me, I found incredible value in receiving a well-rounded liberal arts education from Whitman. Studying art history and geology, I spent most of my time in the arts building and the science building. What’s fascinating looking back is how much this foundation ended up being relevant to Buty. When it comes to wine, the arts and science are remarkably intertwined.
WWB: You must be an incredibly busy person. What are the challenges with owning a successful winery and raising children?
NB: When you run your own business, the boundaries between work and life are very porous—the business will expand to fill all the space you will allow it. Children are like that too. I’m always thinking of my children, and my business. Because of this, I approach life and making wine with a very similar philosophy. I see the two as deeply interwoven. My children have grown up playing in the vineyards. They have a deep understanding of the seasons, and a very developed awareness of a rural agricultural life, and how this life can be the foundation of a business. They know the difference between soil and dirt. They have that connection to the land and farming, which is a gift. They also see their mother working hard and fully investing herself doing something she loves, which I hope will set a positive example.