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Organic grapes, blending, skill bring acclaim to Buty wines
I remember when I first met Nina Buty and her husband, Caleb Foster. I was recovering from a foot operation when Nina called in June of 2001. She wanted to bring by some wines to taste. Now, I admit that I was grumpy. My foot had kept me up much of the night, but it was a wonderful summer day in our beautiful Pacific Northwest. My husband scurried to the store to buy some snacks. As I vaguely recall, it was lox and bagels.
We enjoyed Buty Wines in our backyard that lovely sunny afternoon. I was probably one of the first to taste that fledgling winery’s first wines.
Nina Buty is one of six wine makers and/or winery owners who grew up on Mercer Island. She attended Islander Middle School in 1989 and graduated from Mercer Island High School in 1993. Her parents, Frank and Carlene Buty, still live on Mercer Island.
“I grew up enjoying wine as part of celebrations with a family of Italian-American heritage. My grandparents made wine from grapes brought by train from California,” said Nina.
As a youngster, Nina fell in love with Eastern Washington and chose to go to Whitman College in Walla Walla. She met Caleb Foster in Walla Walla. Caleb was then assistant wine maker for the legendary Woodward Canyon Winery.
In 1998, on a backpacking trip, they formulated their dream of owning a winery, sketching the rough draft on a napkin. After two years of planning, they sold almost everything they owned, including Caleb’s home. Their debut 2000 vintage featured five wines.
Flash forward to 2011. Nina and Caleb now have two children. They are producing highly sought, world-class wines. But as I listened to them, the overall concept of blending, teamwork and partnership evolved. Caleb is a skilled blender. He is the first wine maker in the state to purposely blend cabernet sauvignon and syrah, resulting in the highly acclaimed Rediviva of the Stones. But paramount for both Nina and Caleb is not only their own partnership in guiding their winery, but also their teamwork with growers and customers.
Led by Caleb’s knowledge of wine making and Nina’s background in geology — her minor at Whitman — Buty has exclusive rights to some of the more prestigious vineyard sites in Washington state. Due to their careful selection, Buty dodged a major bullet. In the fall of 2010, there was a disastrous freeze. Dormant grape vines can tolerate freezing, but this freeze occurred before dormancy and took the Washington wine industry by surprise. Many wineries, were forced to buy grapes from other areas.
“At Buty, the threat of frost has always been part of our considerations when deciding to work with a vineyard. So, in addition to working with fantastic sites with distinctive terroirs, we generally select vineyards in frost-free zones or with sloping aspects that create good air movement,” Buty explained.
Buty is one of the many wineries farming organically. Their own 10-acre vineyard, Rockgarden Estate in the Walla Walla Valley, was purchased in 2006 and was certified organic in fall of 2010. Phinny Hill Vineyard, in the Horse Heaven Hills, is farmed 100 percent organically and will complete certification this year. Champoux Vineyard, also in the Horse Heaven Hills, is also farmed with an emphasis on the environment. River Rock, another Walla Walla vineyard, is certified salmon safe and sustainable.
Buty has been chosen by two of Washington’s best restaurants to produce private labels. Canlis Restaurants chose a specially blended syrah for their Peter Canlis syrah. Herb Farm's private label is called Designee Cabernet Franc, which is that restaurant’s only custom label. In 2011, Buty was awarded Winery of the Year by Wine & Spirits. Caleb was a finalist for “Winemaker of the Year” in Sunset. Buty was #3 in “Top 100 Cellar Selections” in The Wine Enthusiast; #3 in “Top 100 Washington Wines” in the Seattle Times; and #40 in the “Top 100 ‘most desirable’ Wines” in The Wine Enthusiast.