Winemaker Stephen Singer bucks the trend – Napa Valley Register | Wonder Mind Kids

TIM CARL

Stephen Singer doesn’t make normal wines. But like the odd boy in high school who goes on to become a widely influential indie film director, the wines he makes have the potential to shake things up.

The Syrah and Viognier-Singer-Crafts grown at his Sonoma County vineyard display a precision, edge, and expression that contrasts beautifully with similar wines from the region.

“Over the last two decades we have learned and refined the vineyard and our winemaking approach,” he said. “We only make a small amount of wine and it’s not for everyone, but we’ve found a tremendous audience for the wines we make, which makes me happy and encouraged to continue.”

emblems of taste

Growing up in Oklahoma in the 1950s and 1960s, Singer’s family thrived in the pipe business, supplying equipment to the burgeoning petroleum industry. Economic success led to greater awareness and appreciation of wine and food.

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“My father’s experience in World War II cemented his belief in the importance of global culture,” he said, “and wine, art, and food were all expressions of that worldview. A nice bottle of Bordeaux or even an Argentinian Cabernet with dinner was a normal and welcome activity in our house.”

What Singer came to believe was that food, art, and wine could represent “emblems of taste” and that they could play a role in redefining cultural norms and values ​​beyond mere means of self-expression.

heading west

In the 1970s, Singer moved to the Bay Area to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from the San Francisco Art Institute and a Bachelor of Arts in critical theory from UC Berkeley. In the 1980s he worked as an artist but also continued to be involved with wine and food.

“The entire region was experiencing a taste revolution at the time,” he said. “It was exciting to be a part of this energy – a beautiful fusion of art, food and wine.”

And while art and wine were aspects of the revolution, growing and producing food had become a political act. At the center of this revolution was a small restaurant in Berkeley called Chez Panisse. The Alice Waters-owned restaurant was at the center of discussions about how eating could become a transformative act.

Waters opened Chez Panisse in 1971 and in the 1980s pioneered what it called California cuisine — a farm-to-table ethos that prided itself on serving fresh, organic produce that showcased the region’s ability, diverse, delicious and nutritious to grow foods.

By this time, Singer was collaborating with other Bay Area artists, including Stephen Thomas, who eventually co-founded The Oxbow School in Napa. Thomas’ wife, Patricia Curtan, worked with Waters as an illustrator for their cookbooks and also in the kitchen as sous chef. When Thomas and Curtan introduced Singer Waters, the two hit it off immediately. In 1983 they were married and had a daughter, Fanny.

Singer eventually became wine director at Chez Panisse and also opened his own wine shop in San Francisco called Singer & Foy Wines. Influenced by Bay Area wine importer Kermit Lynch, Singer scoured the region and the world in search of quality wines that reflected his worldview.

Eventually, in the early 1990s, he opened his own restaurant in Napa Valley for a few years. Dubbed Table 29 – located in the space that now houses Bistro Don Giovanni – the restaurant attempted to serve local dishes from farm to table, paired with wines from around the world.

Through all of these experiences, Singer became convinced that wine could act as a “propelling and uplifting force” on any table – not only for its ability to taste delicious, but also for its ability to reflect its intimate relationship with the earth – where it is had grown and the people who tended it arose. It also had the ability to broaden horizons and offer different perspectives within an ever-changing world.

“The table is a sacred place for me,” Singer said. “Wine, food and good conversation are all part of this experience and have the power to inform and change.”

Today, Singer’s passion for food and wine is reflected in both his wines and an olive oil he produces. Like his art – often angular and geometric – wine and oil express a precision and intentionality that give them a vibrant distinctiveness.

The wine

The labels of Singer’s wines feature his own paintings, which often have distinct geometric shapes. Along with longtime winemaker Greg Adams, Singer makes only a tiny batch of wine that often quickly sells out to members of his wine list. Though he’s no longer with Waters, Singer works with Fanny, an LA-based writer and founder of design brand Permanent Collection. Her part in the wine business is providing design guidance and attending events.

Grown on his Baker Lane vineyard, Syrah 2019 ($95 per bottle and 150 cases made) shimmers ruby ​​red in the glass with aromas of dried cherry, Pekin duck and jaggery. This is a lively wine with a vibrant acid backbone and aromas of black olives, malt and dark fruit. Try this wine with slow-roasted lamb shanks marinated with soy, garlic, a hint of molasses and a pinch of Chinese five-spice powder.

Viognier 2021 ($65 per bottle and 50 cases made) is bubbly, pale amber in the glass with flavors ranging from citronella to candied ginger. In the mouth, this pleasantly edgy wine tastes of pear and apricot and has the wonderful steeliness that is so seductive in each of the exceptional Viogniers from the Rhône Condrieu appellation in France.

Try this wine with any fish dish – sushi, oysters, raw mussels – or rigotte, also known as rigotte de condrieu, a soft goat’s cheese with a floral rind. With the holidays approaching, I highly recommend trying this wine alongside roast turkey with cranberry sauce.

As well as the two wines, the olive oil ($52 for 750ml) is worth searching for. These locally grown and ground oils are aromatically expressive and appeal to Singer’s fascination with angularity. Try the oil over sourdough bread or a salad of grilled vegetables slathered with balsamic vinegar and chopped rosemary.

“My goal is to keep working to achieve the highest expression of this vineyard,” said Singer. “Living and working in a place as beautiful as this fuels a vivid sense of wonder and curiosity, and that’s something I love to celebrate and share.”

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