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The Yin and Yang of Lauren Ashton Cellars

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Almost from the first sip, Kit Singh of Lauren Ashton Cellars knew he wanted to become a winemaker. Singh had moved to Seattle from Trinidad in 1985 to attend the University of Washington, where he majored in chemistry. Though he had tried wine in his native country, that wasn’t where he first became interested in the subject. “We had a bunch of God awful wines there!” Singh says with a laugh.

Rather, Singh’s interest in wine began during his years as an undergraduate at the University of Washington and then, increasingly, as he attended the UW’s dental school. While he knew that he wanted to make wine one day, first Singh had to get through school and get his practice – which is located in Redmond Town Center - successfully running before it was ever practical. “Once you do all that, then you can finally go back and start looking at the interests you had that you never pursued,” he says.

While many have found inspiration to start making wine after visiting Napa Valley or France - and Singh has traveled to these regions - the final impetus for him came closer to home. Each year, he rents a house in Chelan. One year, while wakeboarding in Lake Chelan, he looked at the wineries springing up all around him and later thought, “When I get home I thought, ‘I’m going to do this!’”

Like many winemakers, Singh started out making wine in carboys in his garage. But without access to high quality fruit, not to mention oak barrels, he says the results weren’t particularly impressive. “That’s when I realized I needed to get some education,” Singh says.

Singh started out buying textbooks from the University of Bordeaux and UC Davis and interned for two years at Woodinville’s DeLille Cellars. He took classes at South Seattle Community College’s viticulture and enology program and soon found that his chemistry background gave him a leg up on understanding some of the steps of winemaking. Before long he took over teaching the college’s Wine Science class. The more Singh learned, the more his interest grew. “Wine just sort of sucks you in,” he says.

Though Singh’s science background helped him learn about the technical steps of winemaking, it was actually the artistry of it that he found himself most drawn to. For Singh, it provided relief from his days at the office.

“Wine in some ways kind of fills a void for me,” Singh says. “It’s my yin and yang. When I go to work as a dentist, it’s a different world. It’s a professional world. It’s serious. I have a different half there. When I go to make wine, it’s a lot more relaxing. It balances my life in that sense.”

Singh made his first commercial vintage for Lauren Ashton Cellars in 2009, naming the winery after the names of his two children, Ashley Lauren and Ashton Troy. Unlike many wineries that start out small and make a limited number of wines initially, Singh wanted to show breadth and depth right out of the gate. For this reason, his first releases – reds from the 2009 vintage and whites from the 2011 vintage – contain an astonishing eight different wines.

“A lot of people start with a barrel or two and there’s not thing wrong with that,” Singh says. “But I wanted my first vintage to make that statement. That I could do this.”

The first thing that is striking about the Lauren Ashton wines is the labels, which are classy and attention getting. The black and white pictures, which differ on each label, are from buildings in Estonia where Singh’s partner, Riinu Rammal, is from. “I wanted to make sure that things that are close to me are part of the winery,” Singh says.

The second thing that is striking is the quality, especially considering these are the winery’s first releases. The white wines show subtlety with a focus on texture rather than ripe fruit flavors. The reds, which received extended time in barrel, also show a deft touch. “Balance is what I’m striving for,” Singh says of the wines.

For his fruit, Singh is pulling from a diverse group of sites including Dineen, Two Mountain, La Coye, Shaw, EFESTE, Den Hoed, Red Willow and Arete (Royal City). He is picking up additional sources in 2012. The winery’s tasting room will open in Woodinville’s warehouse district before the end of the year.

While it was important to Singh to start out making a broad, diverse lineup of wines, he notes that it wasn’t easy. Looking across the lineup of his inaugural releases he says, “This was a monumental effort.”

Lauren Ashton Cellars produces 1,200 cases annually.

Lauren Ashton Cellars Rose of Sangiovese Red Willow Vineyard Washington State 2011 $18
(Excellent) Pale salmon colored with a copper tinge. An aromatic, appealing, fruit forward wine with aromas of cherry, spice, strawberry, and watermelon. The palate is bone dry, medium bodied and full of fruit flavors. 100% Sangiovese. Fermented and aged in stainless steel. 13.0% alcohol. 132 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Lauren Ashton Cellars Roussanne Columbia Valley 2011 $25
(Good/Excellent) A moderately aromatic wine with straw, exotic spice, herbal tea, and citrus. The palate is medium-plus bodied with the focus more on texture than ripe fruit flavors. Draws out on the finish. 100% Roussanne. Dineen Vineyard. Aged in stainless steel (33%) and French oak (50% new). 13.2% alcohol. 97 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Lauren Ashton Cellars Cuvee Meline Columbia Valley 2011 $28
(Good/Excellent) Named after a Greek word that translates to ‘honey,’ this wine is composed of 83% Sauvignon Blanc and 17% Semillon. It’s lightly aromatic with vanilla, herbal notes, and spice. The palate is medium bodied and textured with subdued fruit flavors that lead to a lemony finish. 83% Sauvignon Blanc, 17% Semillon. Den Hoed (Sauvignon Blanc) and Dineen vineyards. Aged in stainless steel (33%) and French oak (50% new). 13.4% alcohol. 163 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Lauren Ashton Cellars Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2011 $25
(Excellent) An aromatically appealing wine with pear, spice, vanilla, and yellow apple. The palate is medium bodied with a textured, rich feel with a zip of lemony acidity on the finish that stitches it all together. 100% Chardonnay. Fermented and aged in stainless steel with a limited amount aged in French oak. Arete Vineyard (Royal City). 13.1% alcohol. 200 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Lauren Ashton Cellars Cuvee Arlette Red Mountain 2009 $50
(Good) Announces itself aromatically with toasty oak spices, red currant, floral notes, milk chocolate, and light herbal tones. The palate is medium bodied with silky fruit flavors and abundant oak accents. 57% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Franc, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.5% Malbec, 2.5% Petit Verdot. Red Haven Vineyard. Aged 30 months in French oak. 14.9% alcohol. 116 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Lauren Ashton Cellars Cuvee Proprietor’s Cuvee Red Mountain 2009 $50
(Excellent) An aromatic wine with herbal notes, exotic spices, mocha, and red and black fruit. The palate is medium bodied, full of dark cherry flavors with firm but well integrated tannins that lead to a lingering finish. 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 2.5% Malbec, 2.5% Petit Verdot. Red Haven Vineyard. Aged 30 months in French oak. 14.9% alcohol. 156 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Lauren Ashton Cellars Syrah Red Mountain 2009 $35
(Excellent) Dark ruby. An aromatic wine with floral notes, mineral, cherries, oak spice, and dry chocolate. The palate is ripe and rich, full of black cherry flavors and sinewy tannins with a sweet cranberry finish. 100% Syrah. Red Haven Vineyard. Aged 30 months in French oak. 14.9% alcohol. 111 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Lauren Ashton Cellars Cuvee Mirabelle Red Mountain 2009 $50
(Good/Excellent) Medium ruby. An aromatically intriguing wine with dark cherries, herbal notes, oak spice, and chocolate. The palate is rich and textured with moderate tannins and cherry flavors that draw out toward the finish. 80% Syrah, 10% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre. 14.9% alcohol. 49 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.


Rating System

Please note, my rating system was revised at the beginning of 2012 as follows. Read additional details here.

(Exceptional)
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Readers, please note that Blogger, where this site is hosted, has upgraded to a new version which has significant bugs and formatting issues. There are, at present, no work arounds, so you may see significant formatting errors within the posts.

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