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.
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.
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.
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.