Today we have a very special interview for you from a great name in Washington wine. Dr. Kit Singh is a highly talented winemaker and his wines are gaining more and more national recognition. Dr. Singh first became introduced into the wine world in college and he learned more throughout his travels to Napa and Sonoma. Dr. Singh had a thirst for knowledge and began taking viticulture and enology education at South Seattle Community College and then furthered his education from the illustrious University of California at Davis enology program. He then interned at South Seattle Community College, Seattle and spent two years interning at DeLille Cellars in Woodinville, one of Woodinville’s finest. These internships greatly helped in his education as winemaker. Like many winemakers, he began his winemaking journey making wine in his garage, but he knew that would lead to something much bigger. With his background in science, he has an upper hand in the winemaking process, as he is constantly measuring the wine and tasting for variances. In 2009 Dr. Singh made everything official by founding Lauren Aston Cellars, naming the winery after the names of his two children, Ashley Lauren and Ashton Troy. I think you will really enjoy hearing more about his story. Here is my interview with Dr. Kit Singh of Lauren Ashton Cellars.
WWB: How were you first interested in winemaking?
KS: I think both tasting wine and making wine go hand in hand. My college friends were into wine. I attended undergrad at the University of Washington and I grew up in Trinidad, which doesn’t have much of a wine culture. I wasn’t initially involved in wine but the college friends got me into wine. They were all sort of coming from backgrounds where their parents liked wines and so they were exposed to wine growing up. The interest in making wine started when my wife and I did a trip to Napa in 1987. The first love was really the vineyards and looking at the vineyards and I enjoyed straight things and orderly things, which is probably why I am a dentist. The vineyard repents this. That was something that looked fun and I came back and was still trying to get into dental school. I went to dental school at UW and so you are trying to keep your head above water. I graduated and had all this debt so had to get my practice going. I focused on building my practice but my interest in wine never waned. I was looking at Washington and our wine scene was starting to grow. I think that I had the interest and I didn't want this time to go.
I wanted to succeed in my wine career so I decided to take classes at UC Davis and also at South Seattle Community College. During the classes I learned as much as I could. I was in a wine tasting group too and in dental school a lot of the students were into wines. You run into a lot of people that have great wine collections. I ended up teaching the wine science class at South Seattle Community College. I did the wine science for DeLille Cellars for two and a half years. It was at DeLille that I learned the theory and the theoretical work in winemaking. I learned how to press grapes and hoses to tanks. At DeLille I learned how to run and operate a winery at some kind of scale. At that point in time I felt I was ready. Our first vintage for Lauren Ashton Cellars was 2009 and the first release was in 2011. I had those reds in barrel for two years and then the 2011 vintage I made white wines and red wines. Then I was able to start the winery with a combination of whites and reds.
WWB: How does your career as a dentist give you an advantage as a winemaker?
KS: I think this gives me a huge advantage. There are several things that help with my undergraduate work in chemistry. To get this degree you need at least as year of biology and physics and several years of math. I had a good understanding of the sciences which is basically the same for an enology degree. You have to learn about fermentation and have an understanding the PH and keeping your wines healthy. Food safety is key. The wine science and how to do a titration and understanding the acidity and measuring the alcohol in the wines. The math part is important, so that gave me a good grounding to be able to do this. I also have an artistic part in me and I feel like I am able to express that in wine. My dad is a writer and I think probably some of his genes passed on. I express my passion through the wines. I also have their business background from my practice and I am somewhat of a risk taker. It is a huge risk and wine is a crowded market. I could have done something else with my time but my love for wine is what made me do it and applying the business aspects of what I had learned before. I wanted to do this and do it well.
WWB: I recently had the chance to try your 2013 Lauren Ashton ‘Proprietor’s Cuvee’ Red Wine (WWB, 93), which was a dense and intense wine that showed beautiful poise in this warm vintage. Can you talk about this great new release?
KS: Washington State gives us some of the best grapes to work with. I really like flavors that we get in Washington compared to other places like California. Part of what I did with this wine is trying to establish my style. I worked with DeLille and I know their wine style and how they make their wines. When I was done I had to ask myself what kind of style are you going to do? Are you going to make something similar to DeLille? I felt like I wanted to have my own style. I wanted to have something a little different and I wanted to think about what would work. One of the things that I learned from Chris Upchurch is that blending was a challenge. He told me that when you make wines like that it is like making wines by committee and you make the most boring wines. He said that it was best to do the blending himself. That is one of the big lightbulbs that went off for me and I had to do the blending by myself. I thought about it more and really what that translates to is making wines that you like and you are proud of. This wine represents what I am and hopefully you have an audience that likes that style of wine. Going back to your question about the 2013 ‘Proprietor’s Cuvee’ I get a lot of my fruit from Red Mountain and then I blend it back from other areas in the Columbia Valley that add to the flavors. This might not be the biggest and boldest wine but blending with cooler areas I get more acidity in the wines and lean it out vs being too big. The 2013 vintage I employed that strategy.
WWB: I personally think that your winemaking style is improving, as you are developing a signature textural style. Can you talk about your signature style of winemaking?
KS: Sometimes people come out to the tasting room and will say ‘I don't drink whites’ and you tell them that its might be different. They try it and they like it. I think what is different with the whites is there is a textural mouthfeel that I am able to create with these wines. How I accomplish that is doing a combination of barrel fermenting the fruit and then tank fermenting some of the same fruit. I add layers and I add some that are leaner and then have some that are stirred on the lees. I have a little bit of an oak component. I put the components to gather just as you would with blending the red wine. Here I have at least three or four components from the same grapes picked on the same day from the same vineyard. I do my blending trials and get the best wine out of that.
WWB: What is in your cellar and what are some of your favorite producers and wines of the world?
KS: I do not have a wine cellar right now and I have a good reason for that. Over the past few years I have moved several times. I was collecting wines and having a cellar and I found that I was moving the wine and herding the wine all of the time. Finally on one of my last moves I would drink what I had and then give away some of it. I do spend a lot of time at tasting groups. There are various tasting groups that do high end wines. Some do wines that are really old Bordeaux and high end wines. I spend time with wine and learn about wine that way. I think I get more about that and i have my own thought about the wines and then other people at the table. I also have groups that I attend and get involved in and we get a different perspective with that. That will give me exposure to the other wines. I really only need a little of the wine to do something different. Eventually I will have a larger cellar. My favorite wines are Burgundy and I think this year I might consider doing a Pinot Noir from Oregon which might start in the fall. I have always wanted to make Pinot Noir from Oregon as there are some great producers out there.