On Monday Nina Buty, co-founder of Buty Winery in Walla Walla, announced that the winery would be closing. News of the winery’s “retirement” came in an email to list members.
“The decision was personal,” Buty says of closing the winery. “There is a point where you intuitively know it’s time, and I felt very clear about that.”
Buty co-founded the winery with Caleb Foster in 2000, when she was a 24-year old graduate from Walla Walla’s Whitman College. The winery was at the very front end of a wave of new producers in Walla Walla, which is now home to over 120 wineries and tasting rooms.
“Wine is one of the reasons that so many other things have flourished in Walla Walla and that there’s such a bigger breadth and depth of options of things to create in this little town,” Buty says of watching the community’s growth over the last 22 years.
Buty pioneered and helped popularize Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah blends in Washington, with its first vintage of those wines in 2001. The winery focused on two areas, the Rocks District, which it used for its Rediviva of the Stones, and Horse Heaven Hills, which it used for its Columbia Rediviva. While intentionally made Cabernet-Syrah blends are now relatively common in the state, Buty still sees room for exploration.
“I think there is such a beautiful possibility for that blend in Washington,” she says.
Buty was also one of the first wineries beyond Cayuse Vineyards to work with Rocks District fruit, initially sourcing from Cayuse’s Cailloux Vineyard starting in 2000. The winery subsequently planted its own site, Rockgarden Estate, in the Rocks District in 2008. The area is now a hot bed of activity and received appellation status in 2015. Meanwhile Phinny Hill Vineyard in the Horse Heavens, where the winery sourced fruit for its Columbia Rediviva, is now considered one of the state’s top sites for Cabernet Sauvignon.
Buty has been at the forefront of using Muscadelle in its Bordeaux blanc-style wine, something few other Washington wineries have explored to date despite Buty’s success. “Historically, when I would blind taste white Bordeaux, it was the ones that contained the Muscadelle that I gravitated toward,” explains Buty.
While the pandemic has put a lot of stress on small family wineries, particularly in Walla Walla where many wineries rely on seasonal tourism, Buty says the winery closing is unrelated. “It is a personal choice that I made. At the same time, the pandemic, of course, has had an influence on the how.”
The winery is already far along the path of winding down. Buty sold its Rockgarden Estate Vineyard to Mike Martin (The Walls) in early 2020. The winery did a sale of library wine last fall. Buty stopped producing wine in 2018, and the winery will be sold out and fully buttoned up shortly.
“It’ll be this January,” Buty says. “Maybe even in a week.”
Team members at Buty have also moved on. Co-founder Caleb Foster left the winery a decade ago. Long-time winemaker Chris Dowsett took a position as production winemaker at Dusted Valley prior to last year’s harvest. Paul Boen joined him at Dusted Valley as cellar master. Lindsey Dennis is now working on the administrative team at Pepper Bridge Winery. Tyson Crudup has started Sage Brewing Company in the Tri-Cities.
“I care a great deal about my team. I wanted people to know where to find them,” she says of listing their current jobs in the email announcement.
And what does Buty have planned next for herself? “I know what my threads are, but I’m not sure what the next endeavor will be,” she says. “And it might not materialize right away. But I know there are other things on my path, and it’s time to move towards those.”
One of the best Chardonnay of my life came from Buty. Best of luck, Nina.