Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Buty and the Beast: A Walla Walla Wine Epiphany

It's refreshing to know that after 30+ years of the wine game, I can still be jolted into adolescent levels of excitement by a winery visit.  Epiphanies might come less frequently than before, but they don't lessen at all in their intensity.  The first wine epiphany I had at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla was with Buty Winery. (website here)

Buty caught my attention during a "speed tasting", when the owners gave me a brief peek-taste at an engaging white blend of Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc/Muscadelle, with snappy herbs, lean acids, and a bit of tobacco-y, figgy fatness from the Semillon.  Got my attention.

Imagine my delight, then, when the little yellow school bus we were on turned into the Buty Rockgarden Vineyard as the first stop the next morning on our WBC tour.  Caleb Foster and Nina Buty-Foster had arranged a tailgate tasting at the vineyard, and our first wine of the morning (We're all professionals here!) was a wine under their "Beast" designation, an alter-ego line reserved for interesting, perhaps experimental, diversions from the major focus of the Buty line.

So we were poured a glass of gorgeous coppery-pink rose', and we gazed over the vibrant green of the young vines, scuffed our feet in the cobblestone-studded soil, and looked at the line of the Blue Mountains in the distance.  A lovely way to start the day.
Buty and the Beast
Then I tasted the Beast Rose' of the Stones, LeFore Vineyard, Rose' of Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009.


A little background here:  one of my nicknames, proudly earned, is "M'sieur Rose'."  I am also certified as a Master Instructor on Rose' wines by the Wines of Provence agency and the French Wine Society.  I have pursued the elusive rose' all over the world.  I know just a little bit about rose'.

And this is the best American Rose' I have ever had. 

I would put it right up there with the very best of Provence (and that is the highest praise from me.)  Kudos to Caleb, Nina, and LeFore Vineyard.

                                                                      The Beast and the Buty (Foster)
Beast Rose' of the Stones---named after the distinctive cobblestone soil in the vineyard, reminiscent of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, except that the rocks here are basaltic in nature---is a delicate copper-pink wine with finely etched flavors of tantalizing tart berry fruits in a tight acid structure; it's vibrant, tingly and refreshing on the tongue; clean, crisp, lively and long on the finish; and each sip leaves you wanting more.

The secret here is that Caleb, the winemaker, made an intentional rose', not an afterthought or a byproduct of a red wine.  This is a vin de presse, also called a Champagne Press, where the singular intent was to create   pale, fresh-fruited, light and lively wine through allowing minimal fruit maceration then lightly pressing the wine to achieve just enough flavor and acidity.  This style is not easy with Cabernet Sauvignon, because it's difficult to maintain just the right balance of fruit and liveliness without getting too much tannic bite and bitterness from the skins, but leaving enough 'grip' to make in interesting.  But Caleb has done an excellent job of creating a fully balanced and harmonious wine.  It's a testament to both his superb skill and to the quality of the fruit he had to work with.

The bad news?  You'll have to take my word for it, because this wine is long gone.  First, it was available only through the Friends of the Beast Club/wine club that Buty maintains for its followers (and there are a lot of followers), or directly at the winery.  Second, once released, it was gone almost immediately.  (And the moral of this lesson is:  sign up for the Beast wine club (here) so you'll be one of the select few to enjoy this delight of a wine.)

The good news?  I just spoke with Buty winemaker Caleb Foster and he assured me there would be another Beast Rose' next vintage.  He wouldn't say what it was going to be, precisely, but he did say it would be from their Rockgarden Vineyard and it would be in the same style.  I've signed up already.

Based on this wine alone, I would be interested in following this talented young couple and their wines.  But there's more than just this one wine.  That, however, will have to wait until the next installment of this blog, when I wax rhapsodic about the Buty Rediviva of the Stones.


  1. Glad to hear you got to check out the Buty wines. Among my favorite in Washington. I agree that the Semillon/SB/Muscadelle is palate catching. Perhaps my favorite is the Rediviva of the Stones, a Syrah/Cabernet blend. A beautiful example of Walla Walla fruit and how Syrah can be so special here.

  2. Yep, I liked Rediviva of the Stones as well, Sean---which I subsequently posted about! Caleb and Nina are doing some great things with Buty, and I'm eager to see what develops as their Rockgarden Estate fruit comes on. Should be great.

  3. Hoke, thanks for pointing me toward the Rediviva post. I missed it somehow. I agree that I'm extremely excited to see what comes out of Rockgarden. There are lots of new vines in the ground in The Rocks region of the AVA. It's going to get very interesting. My biggest concern is that all of those vines are in Oregon! Thankfully Washington has thus far been able to lay claim to the entire Walla Walla Valley AVA regardless of the location of the winery or vineyards. However, Oregon will start paying attention sooner or later.