How Mike and Carey Skinner acquired a vineyard owned in the distant past by an ancestor amounts to a thrills and chills detective story. Check their website for more details. Better yet, visit Skinner Vineyards & Winery in the Sierra foothills and get the story first hand.
James Skinner left Scotland in 1849, hoping to find gold in California. He not only found gold but struck it so rich that he was able to start one of the biggest wineries in the country.
That winery produced 15,000 gallons of wine and brandy a year. The present Skinner winery produces about 3,500 cases a year.
"We're small, we're artisan," said Carey Skinner (at the top), speaking to the LA Wine Writers at Hotel Angeleno. And while they look to the past, the winery is up to date. The 12,000-square-foot building is solar-powered; goats trim the brush, wines are unfined and unfiltered, and "we're on our way to being 100% organic," she said.
In order to link to the winery's origins, the Skinners checked probate records and made sure to plant the same grapes grown by the original Skinner. They call their Rhone style red blend Eighteen Sixty-One for the year that Skinner founded his winery.
The 2012 release of Eighteen Sixty-One is 55% Grenache, 15% Mourvedre, 15% Counoise, 14% Syrah and 1% Viognier. It's at the left in the photo above. The 2010, a different blend, is at the right. Grenache and Mourvedre are their two main varietals.
Still more historical links: The Skinners plan to make Angelica, a dessert wine from the past that is rare now, and to revive a white wine made from the grape Trousseau Gris. Known as Grey Riesling, it too has virtually disappeared.
Another link to the past, in name at least, is their Seven Generations Rhone style white blend, which is made yearly from the same five varietals. The 2013 (at left in the photo) is 38% Grenache Blanc, while the 2011 emphasizes Roussanne and Marsanne. The change was made because restaurants wanted a more acidic wine to sell by the glass, Skinner said.
The wines are shown with white-wine steamed mussels, curried risotto and spring peas from West Restaurant at the hotel.
Skinner Vineyards & Winery is located in the El Dorado wine region in the highest AVA (American Viticultural Area) in the state. (Learn more about El Dorado here.) Rhone grapes grow well in the granitic soil, and so the Skinners specialize in Rhone style wines. Other wines that Skinner poured for the writers group were a Grenache, a Mourvedre and a Syrah.
The Skinners divide their time between Pacific Palisades and the winery. They bought into El Dorado in 2006. There was "a tremendous amount of fear in setting this up," she said. "When we first opened, we prayed, is somebody going to come to our [tasting] room? Is somebody going to buy our wine? We're in one of the newest regions in California that people don't even know about."
Although gold is in their history, there's no gold dust to be found in their soils, other than agricultural riches. Buying their wines won't require a pouch of gold either. "We want to offer value in the glass," Skinner said.