As with so many industries, the upper echelons of the wine industry were traditionally reserved for men. The past two decades have brought with them significant change, and the world of wine is becoming more inclusive. Washington wine pioneers like Nina Buty, Mary Derby, Eve-Marie Gilla, and Kay Simon have personally witnessed the shift away from male-only wine events, vineyard management, and seminars. Join us in raising a glass to the women who prune, pick, crush, and bottle some of the best wines in the world right here in Washington State.
Next time you’re in the wine section of the store, look up. Among the whites is a classic, simple label. The name is only four letters, pronounced, appropriately,“beauty.” These lush, delicious wines are the products of Nina Buty, who started Buty Wines in 2000, in the early days of the Washington wine industry. A Seattle native, she grew up with wine. “My parents introduced me to wine at a fairly early age, and they fostered appreciation for the ritual of family gathering to enjoy food and wine together.” When Buty moved east to attend Whitman College, she fell in love with the landscape and weather of eastern Washington. She focused on art and geology, a course of study that was a natural foundation for her career in wine.
“I am not the winemaker at Buty, though I have always been involved in every facet of our winery.” Buty selects their suppliers, creates the vision for the blends, and orchestrates the creative process of winemaking. Her winemaker is Chris Dowsett. Buty’s children grew up at the vineyard, running through the vines and learning about viticulture. “Whether they follow in my footsteps or not, I love that they have that connection to the earth 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.”
For Buty, wine is made to go with food, not as a stand-alone experience. She doesn’t favor a particular grape or varietal, she likes individual wines. “You can have a great Malbec from a bad year, or a terrible 2010 Chardonnay from a supposedly great year.” She added, “The wines that I like the best are the ones that have something to say. They have character and spirit, and speak of a specific place or moment in time.”
Buty’s mentor was Zelma Long. Those who know the industry know that Long was a pioneer for women in winemaking, with a career that began in the 1970s as CEO of Simi Winery. She remains Buty’s consulting winemaker. “She’s a ceilingbreaker who understands our industry in such a deep and thoughtful way. Her influence on me—not just in business, but in life—has been monumental.” Long’s husband Bill Freese has also served as a mentor to Buty, and helped her Phinney Hill and Rockgarden Estate vineyards. Buty mentors winemakers as well. “Especially other women. When you’ve mentored, I think you are far more likely to become a mentor.”
Winemaking is a challenging business, with many factors like weather and the economy that are beyond the control of the winery. Buty’s philosophy is that strong relationships always get her through the hard times. “The best way to get through difficult times is together.” But when it’s good, it’s very very good. “When you make wine, every vintage is like a year full of memories. You open an old bottle, and it takes you back to who you were, where you were, and the people you were with. That’s a special thing.”