Top 100 Winery 2017

Skinner, Part Deux: Back in 1861 , James Skinner was making 15,000 gallons of wine (and brandy as well) from a vineyard he planted at the base of the Sierra Foothills after striking it rich during the Gold Rush.  More that 140 years later, through a rather Byzantine series of events, his great-great-great-grandson Mike Skinner (who runs an insurance company) stumbled on this long-lost family history and within two weeks he and his wife, Carey, bought a vineyard property near the old site of the J. Skinner Native Wine and Brandy Co.  Guided by probate records and winemaker Chris Pittenger – who apprenticed at William Selyem and Marcassin – they planted mostly Rhone varieties, and soon purchased a second estate higher in the hills, on the granitic soils of Fair Play, where they built a winery.

The One: Mourvedre has become Skinner’s unexpected star performer – a grape that seems particularly suited to the warmth and volcanic soils of the Foothills.  “It always amazes me how differently is expresses itself from one site to the next,” says Pittenger.  At Elenridge, a vineyard perched on the edge of a river canyon, he finds a lovely balance between lush fruit, earth and bright acidity.  White Oak Flats – the Skinners’ first planting near the town of Rescue – veers towards floral, high-toned fruit.  “And I know that the estate vineyard in Fair Play is always going to bring this herbal note, this savory kind of garrigue quality,” he adds.

Proofs of Concept: Without many guideposts for making Foothills mourvedre, Pittenger drew on his experience with coastal pinot noir, and his gentle treatment is paying dividends.  The 2014 Estate Grown Mourvedre comes from the Fair Play vineyard and its scent of dry pine needles places is squarely in the Foothills.  That coniferous streak is tied to fruit that feels dark and substantial yet remarkably cool, and utterly delicious.  The 2015 El Dorado Mourvedre, a multi-vineyard blend, is half the price and just about as good, leaning more towards flowers than pine, with a similar thread of smoky, volcanic mineral zest.

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