Skinner Vineyards


Written by:

Joe Becerra

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We had the opportunity to take a sneak preview of the Skinner Vineyards tasting room that will open in just a few weeks. With its panoramic views, it will easily qualify as one of the “Best Views” of any tasting room in California. And that is just the start of the tale of this remarkable winery in the wine region known as Fair Play in El Dorado County. We met up with winemaker Chris Pittenger at the Skinner Vineyard’s winery this past Sunday, Feb 27, and spent the next couple of hours tasting some excellent Rhone-style wines and learning all about this fascinating winery.

The Skinner wine saga began in 1860 when James Skinner purchased land in the Sierra Foothills and began a very successful business making wine and brandy. When Prohibition struck, the winery and brandy distillery ceased operation. Today it’s the great-great-great grandson of James Skinner, Mike Skinner, who has re-established this historic winery just a few miles from the original site.

Skinner Vineyards
Family photos of the original winery were used to recreate the same style

Chris Pittenger gave us a brief tour of the recently-completed winery facility. Chris was brought in as winemaker in 2007. With 20 years of winemaking experience, Chris said it is nice to be able to build a winery and install a selection of his favorite winemaking equipment, which is perfect for this size of a winery. For example, the winery is equipped with small fermenting tanks, some 2 tons and some 4 tons. All are jacketed and fully-temperature controlled. Each varietal clone or vineyard-selected grapes are kept in separate fermenting tanks and then transferred to French oak barrels. Case production now is 1500 cases of 11 different wines and the facility will be able to handle up to 5000 cases of wine annually.

Small and jacket stainless steel fermenting tanks

Chris led us through several barrel samples comparing varietals from the past two vintages. We then journeyed outside and up the path to the almost-completed tasting room. It was a Sunday, and several construction workers were very busy hoping to finish the tasting room within the next couple of weeks. We sat out on the deck of the tasting room and tasted five of the current vintages. What amazing views! We could see snow-capped Sierra Mountains to the east and the west make out the skyline of the city of Sacramento.

Winemaker Chris Pittenger

We were very impressed with the quality of the wines. The Grenache, as Chris puts it, is his Pinot Noir wine. It is light with fantastic berry flavors and subtle spices. The Mourvèdre is a delightful, medium-bodied wine perfect for your favorite foods. Another favorite is a wine labeled “Eighteen Sixty-One.” This wine is patterned after the wines of the Southern Rhone, blended with Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Syrah. Then there is 2007 Stoney Creek Syrah aged in new French Oak barrels. The Syrah is a beautiful wine, quite drinkable now but will age beautifully for several years.

These current vintages were made at the Copain facility in Santa Rosa. They are well-made, sophisticated, and finished wines. These are the early days of this winery. As the new winery comes into full production and the vineyards are fully developed, these wines can only get better. I can’t wait to try the future vintages and go back to the completed tasting room on a beautiful warm and sunny day to enjoy a picnic lunch with the Skinner wines.

The tasting room is scheduled to open later this March
  • Joe Becerra

    Joe Becerra has been traveling to wine country and enjoying wine since 1965. He is a retired educator, and now have the time the opportunity to share his wine travel experiences through this Website.

6 thoughts on “Skinner Vineyards”

  1. Skinner is off to a great start. The high quality of the wine can only get better. They have a fine winemaker who understands the vineyards. The owners are willing to do what ever it takes to make top quality wine. Get on their mailing list as they aspire to sell most of their production to restaurants. They can do this since quantities are so small and fairly priced. Get the Syrah for $25 at the winery or up to $40+ at a restaurant. At this time this is one winery to buy direct. Great start.

  2. We opened April 15th. Our Grand opening is on the 20th, 21st and 22nd of May 2011. Friday and Saturday for invited Guests only and Sunday for the Public. Music, good food, great views and outstanding wines. Please come up to Fair Play and see us.

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