Wine Spectator’s Four to Watch

SKINNER: A FAMILY LEGACY REBORN

Mike Skinner, 67, didn’t plan on starting a winery, but a revelation about his ancestry sparked his interest. Before Skinner’s father died, in 1992, he revealed the scant details he knew about the family’s history: a town in the Sierra Foothills called Coloma and a vague reference to the year 1849, since he knew an ancestor was involved in the Gold Rush. Skinner’s son, Kevin, drove to the town and found the remnants of a family cemetery. Skinner then contacted local historians and learned that his family had been pioneers in the California wine industry.

Skinner’s ancestor, James Skinner, was a Scottish miner who traveled to California during the Gold Rush and built one of the first commercial wineries in the region, in 1861. The winery closed in the early 20th century, but some of the stone buildings still stand today.

“It was a shock,” recalls Skinner, who founded an insurance company in Los Angeles before establishing Skinner Vineyards and Winery in 2006. “For whatever reason, our family didn’t know about the winery.”

Skinner decided to revive the family legacy and set out to to start a vineyard. In 2006, he and his wife, Carey, found a parcel in Rescue, Calif., close to the original property, where they planted 12 acres of vines. They also bought an 11-acre vineyard in the Fair Play AVA, planted at 2,700 feet. The couple built their 12,000-square-foot winery here in 2010.

While studying probate records, Skinner learned that the original winery had grown Grenache, Carignane and Trousseau, as well as a rare variety called Petit Bouschet. The couple planted their vineyards to the same grapes, as well as a host of other Rhône varieties, including Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache Blanc. “What worked back in the 1860s, in terms of the types of grapes, works today,” Skinner says.

Winemaker Chris Pittenger blends grapes from the two estate vineyards, along with purchased fruit from El Dorado County. He selects grapes from multiple areas in the Sierra Foothills, citing the characteristics that different terroirs provide. “We are just trying to highlight [the soils] and let the wines be representative of their place,” says Pittenger.

Skinner’s family helps to run the winery, and he hopes to pass the reins to future generations. “We’re not going to sell to a big producer, which is what some people do,” says Skinner. “We don’t want a 150-year interruption again.”

94 SKINNER Mourvèdre El Dorado Estate 2010 $32 73 cases
93 SKINNER Eighteen Sixty-One El Dorado 2010 $30 320 cases
88 SKINNER Dry Diggings El Dorado 2010 $32 250 cases
88 SKINNER Grenache El Dorado 2011 $26 402 cases

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