Texas has a reputation for friendliness — as long as you aren’t driving on the highway, at least — but few places I’ve visited in the wine world were as downright inviting as C.L. Butaud.
Butaud is a husband-and-wife operation headed by Randy and Brooke Hester. After stints in wine distribution and sales, both of them moved west and cut their teeth in California, Randy working as a 30something-year-old cellar rate while Brooke worked in the back office of some of Napa’s bluest of blue chip operations. Specifically, Randy learned winemaking at Cakebread, Colgin, and Realm, some of the Valley’s most respected wineries.
After starting a boutique wine label called Lightning Wines, the couple moved back home to Texas and began producing wine from local grapes, opening a tasting room in Dripping Springs, near their home in Austin. C.L. Butaud — named for Randy’s grandfather — probably wouldn’t have known what to make of Texas-born wine, but its clear that if anyone knows what they’re doing with Texas’s particular fruit, it’s his grandson. His penchant for odd grapes from Europe — a Teroldego bottling is in the works — and traditional techniques are outweighed only by his insistence for the very best fruit. Butaud works closely with growers in the Texas High Plains, where he sources all his fruit, to ensure yields are ideal and harvests go smoothly.
In a moment of candor, common during our lively 2 1/2-hour visit (originally scheduled for 60 minutes), Randy riffed on the insular Texas wine industry and his desire to elevate quality in a state where people still seem to be making wine by instinct and the seat of their pants. Randy said he could name only four other Texas wineries worth sampling, though we won’t name them here.
Our visit, of course, would not have been complete without plenty of wine to drink, and the Hesters pulled out innumerable bottles to try, including a few from their private stock, no longer on sale. That said, should you stop by, you’ll find plenty of wine to enjoy, including many of the wines reviewed below.
2021 C.L. Butaud Blanc de Noir – A 50/50 white blend of grenache and mourvedre, dry and grassy, with notes of Asian melon. A- / $48
2021 C.L. Butaud Skin Contact Trebbiano – Any wine you’re told to go into with “an open mind” can be dicey, and this rather sour, funky experience is no exception to that disclaimer. Green and vegetal on one hand, balanced by melon and grapefruit on the other. Amply acidic. B / $NA
2021 C.L. Butaud Blanc Carbonic Counoise – Wild and funky, overwhelmingly earthy. One gets the sense this pungent bottling is an acquired taste, or at least a good food pairing. B / $25
2020 C.L. Butaud TX Cinsault – Fragrant vanilla, plum, and black cherry, finishing with a light tobacco note. My favorite wine in the mix — but sold out. A / $NA
2020 C.L. Butaud Tempranillo – Punchy, with notes of chocolate and some caramel smoldering in the mix. Another winner, but very aggressive. A / $54
2020 C.L. Butaud Cease & Desist Red Blend – Boldly fruit, a bit overly so here, with heavy notes of red berries and some floral notes in the mix. A little balsamic on the finish. A- / $48
2021 C.L. Butaud TX Grenache – Big with notes of graphite and tobacco, but balanced with strawberry, orange peel, and a little floral note on the finish. Solid, but alas no longer available. A- / $NA
2021 C.L. Butaud TX Mourvedre – On the green side, this feels like it’s still developing, with notes of green olive giving way to a plum jam element. B+ / $30
open every Friday to Sunday, reservations highly recommended
12345 Pauls Valley Road (at Fitzhugh), Austin, Texas 78737 / clbutaud.com