Vernon Singleton, a professor at the University of California at Davis who laid the groundwork for the study of phenolics, the large group of organic chemical compounds that affect the taste, color and texture of wine, died Aug. 26 of complications from a fall. He was 93.
Singleton's research on phenolics has helped generations of winemakers around the world better understand the chemistry involved in winemaking. "He prepared a solid foundation for today's wine researchers and winemakers," said Carole Meredith, a former U.C. Davis professor and proprietor of Napa winery Lagier Meredith. "Because of him, they appreciate the significance of phenolic compounds, most notably tannins, in the production, aging and flavor of wine."
Singleton's research was ahead of its time. "His role in the science of wine was the characterization of phenolic compounds at a time when people didn't think they were important," said Roger Boulton, a professor at U.C. Davis. It wasn't until after Singleton retired in the 1990s that his work was fully appreciated.
Born in Oregon, Singleton moved to Indiana and studied at Purdue University. His graduate work was interrupted by the onset of World War II, but after serving in the U.S. Army overseas in Italy, he returned to finish his PhD in biochemistry. He first worked for Dole at the Pineapple Research Institute in Hawaii. In 1958, he joined the University of California at Davis' Department of Viticulture and Enology.
In a career spanning four decades Singleton authored a broad collection of research, including more than 220 papers and four books. He co-authored the classic Wine: An Introduction for Americans, with pioneer Maynard Amerine. Principles and Practices of Winemaking, which he co-authored with three colleagues at Davis, remains a roadmap for vintners around the world.
"He was a very private and modest person," said Boulton. "He had a dramatic impact on wine even coming to it late [in life]."
Singleton retired in 1991, but remained fascinated by phenolics in his later years. He consulted both formally and informally for several organizations, reviewing books and papers, and continued to work with students and peers. In 2011 he was inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame. He is survived by his wife, Kay, two sons and a daughter.