Ashley Trout, Vital Wines/Brook & Bull
Happy Valentine’s Day to you all! One of the exciting young winemakers in Washington, Ashley Trout is the talented mastermind behind new winery projects Vital Wines and Brook & Bull and Vital Wines. A fellow Whitman College graduate, Ashley Trout got her start at Reininger Winery learning under legendary winemaker Chuck Reininger. In 2018 she was named by Wine Enthusiast as one of ‘the top 40 under 40 tastemakers.’ I recently had the chance to review her new wines from Vital Wines and Brook & Bull which were all excellent. Wait until you try her beautiful new 2018 Vital Wines Rose (WWB, 90), only $18.00 retail. I really think you will enjoy hearing more about her story. Here is my interview with Ashley Trout, winemaker/owner of Brook & Bull and Vital Wines.
WWB: Can you talk about your background in winemaking? How did you initially become inspired to become a winemaker?
AT: I started working in the Washington wine industry in 1999. I was 18 and I seized the opportunity to do the nighttime punchdowns at Reininger Winery. I'm from Washington DC, and working in wine seemed like, not a real job. So I figured age 18 was my only chance and then I'd grow up and get a big girl job after college. That never happened. I got sucked in. I've never looked back. I worked at Reininger for 8 years, but my fifth year was my "aha moment." I had a bad climbing accident and broke myself enough to where I couldn't work harvest that year and it seemed really inappropriate. I felt like I was missing part of who I was. That's when I realized this wasn't just a thing that I liked to do, but that I loved doing it, it was who I was already and that reality had snuck up on me at some point over those 5 years. I was never inspired to become a winemaker. I just couldn't stop myself. A lot of it was right place, right time, (right people- thank you Chuck). I was inspired, after 5 years, to never get a job that wasn't winemaking.
WWB: What are some of the challenges with being married to another talented winemaker, Brian Rudin. How does your winemaking style differ from Brian’s? Do you both ever combine your winemaking talents?
AT: Brian is indeed, a whole lot of talent. I'll tell him you said so. Our busy season is the same, our slow season is the same. It means that we use a lot of babysitters (fall, spring) and then travel together a lot (winter, summer). Our kids learned early on to roll with the punches, the many, many punches. It's chaotic in our house. Where we run into direct competition isn't the wine- you try to make the best wines you can for your own palate and it's that simple. Hopefully people feel the same and buy those wines. We land in competition with each other with the kind of stuff you wouldn't think about- occasional vineyard sourcing, right now we're trying to hire staff for a similar position and we were looking at some of the same people. In those circumstances, chronology and pricing play a role and you leave it on the playing field because our marriage is more important and because it's an amusing predicament and even we can recognize that.
Our styles are different. I'm going to keep this answer short. The more you write about someone else's artwork, the more likely you are to say something you think is a compliment that someone absorbs differently. Every artist aims for something in their head and whenever you try to put that into words, you’ve failed by the mere act of translation. He likes having something plush to reign in and balance while I like starting with a more reigned in wine and doing the opposite, releasing its extremities. I like geeking out on rosé while he likes geeking out on Riesling. We're different. I'm better. Just kidding! No, he's phenomenal at what he does. We touch base all of the time on what the other thinks about a wine, a place, a cooper, you name it.
We're better not working together. We learned that when we were dating. That didn't take long to learn... I know how to run my show and he knows how to run his = two chefs in the kitchen. Having said that, Brian has helped make Vital happen in a lot of ways, and for that I'm so thankful. If you look closely on our donor's page on Vital, I give him a shout out as I think the "Rudin Global Trucking Co." but he's done much more than just haul fruit. He's helped secure some of our best donated fruit, barrels, you name it.
WWB: You are a fellow Whitman College alumnus (I am quite a bit older than you, lets just say that!) who majored in Anthropology while at Whitman and has since been involved in the wine industry for the past fifteen plus years. How did you decide to start Vital Wines. Can you talk about this special nonprofit winery?
AT: Vital had been stuck in my head for about a decade before I had the nerve (Rolodex) to pul it off. Vital is a non-profit winery whose mission is to improve the healthcare for vineyard and winery workers in the Walla Walla Valley. All profits go to the SOS Clinic (www.soshealthservices.org). We get practically everything donated- grapes, labels, corks, capsules, screwcaps, shipping supplies, some bottles, lab work, graphic design, tasting room staff, winemaking, barrels, a lot of harvest supplies, it's pretty amazing. The whole valley is in on it.
WWB: You have already produced a killer 2018 Rose for Vital Wines (WWB, 90). What was your winemaking approach to this beautifully textured and layered Rose that is priced at a mere $18 and will be featured on my upcoming Pacific Northwest Rose Report?
AT: Hah. Rosé is my full geek fest these days. Because rosé is usually at a low price point, people think it is easy to make. It's one of the hardest wines to make well. It has to be heat stable or it'll go cloudy. It has to be cold stable or it'll throw potassium bitartrate crystals. It has to have acid or it'll be a flabby rose, which is super depressing to drink. With red wine, you have a lot more wiggle room to do any of those. Red wine is opaque, so it doesn't matter if it is cloudy. If you see crystals in red wine, you assume it is a really high end, unfined, unfiltered wine. You don't come to that conclusion with a rosé. Rose is like a short story- every piece counts more because there are fewer moving parts and you have less time in the cellar before bottling. You have no oak to play with, no tannins, no extended macerations, and the color has to be perfect because everyone has a magnifying glass on that color. When you water a troubled plant, it doesn't perk back up the minute you water it. When you make movements with any wine, you need another bit of time before those efforts come to fruition. With rosé, you have to stay really on top of it because you don't have that time. Rose gets bottled much earlier than reds or whites. You have to nail every movement and if you don't, its obvious.
That's my rant. We make our rosé for rosé, which is to say we don't saignee. We pick for rose, really early so it has lots of acid. We go straight to press and make sure to use varieties that will give us enough color without maceration, and we aim for a salmon hue instead of the blue hued K-Mart pink. We use neutral oak to help get us heat stability so we don't have to fine it with anything. With rosé, the key is always an ounce of prevention. And then we cold stabilize it by getting it really cold and letting gravity do our work for us. It's harder than it sounds. And really fun.
WWB: What are some of your favorite Washington wines and producers? What are some of your favorite wines of the world?
AT: Canvasback. I'm not going to pick other Washington producers because inevitably I'll tick someone off by not putting them on the list. As for favorite wines of the world, I love both CA (Merry Edwards) and OR (Cristom) Pinot Noir, I adore Sancerre (all, and I mean, all) and both cheap and expensive bubbles. Pulenta Estates and Bodega Bressia make my favorite boutique Argentine Malbecs. I'm a sucker for Cornas. It's a beautiful world out there.