Much like an unearthed vein of gold’s illusive promise once hidden deep within the rock, the contemporary story of Skinner Vineyards and Winery began with a chance encounter that would ultimately reveal six generations of family legacy built on the dreams of a Scottish immigrant and miner during the California Gold Rush with a passion for winemaking in the rich foothills of El Dorado County.
A Fateful Detour
Kevin and Kathy Skinner were headed home to Santa Cruz from Lake Tahoe when Kathy spotted “Skinners, CA” near Rescue on an old, dog-eared map. adventurous by nature, they couldn’t help but take the short detour and have a look around.
After taking in the area and talking with locals, they discovered that a Scottish miner named James Skinner had done well enough during the gold rush to purchase land and plant the vast vineyards that became J. Skinner Winery and Distillery, one of the first wineries in the nation in 1861. Could it be possible that the roots of those vines were somehow connected to Kevin’s own family’s heritage?
Having lost both of his parents and unaware of his family’s history, Kevin’s father, Mike, soon learned that James Skinner was indeed his great, great, great
grandfather. Joined by his wife, Carey, they traveled to the area within two weeks, contemplating an adventure that, if they had the courage, would alter the course of their entire family.
As if a moment in time had stood still allowing six generations to gather in one place, they purchased 25 acres a few miles from the original property with a commitment to honor what James had originally built, including the same varieties of vines that he planted a century and a half earlier. By 2007 they had acquired more vineyards and land upon a ridge top on the steep green hills around Fair Play and began building the now acclaimed Skinner Vineyards & Winery.
Bonded by their love of God and each other, the Skinner family believes that life is a great adventure to be shared with family and friends, and they take seriously their responsibility and commitment to contribute to the needs of others.
Their sense of purpose and the continuation of James Skinner’s legacy empowers them to have a positive impact on their community. It has been an honor to be part of — and bring attention to — this incredible region of the Sierra Foothills and all that it offers.
Faith based visionaries, Carey and Mike intentionally lean into life with purpose, and take risks when it feels right. They never imagined they would be responsible for carrying the legacy of James Skinner onward, but since 2007 they have been doing just that. “We’re a family legacy which means so much more to me than a business. You can’t buy a legacy. I don’t care how much money you have, you can’t buy a legacy.”
Whole-heartedly dedicated to hand crafting elevated wines while contributing to over 150 years of family history deeply rooted in El Dorado County. Skinner Vineyards has entirely reinvigorated the two of them, brought their family even closer, and gifted them with a purposeful and soulful everyday.
Brendan is by acclimation the best cook in the family, but it was his business skills as a CPA to the winery’s operations early on that proved so vital. He, too, loves coming to winery festivities, but he’s not there to check on the accounting. He comes for the food, wine, family and fun.
Kevin and Kathy live in Arnold with their three children. Kevin works as a fire captain and helps to oversee safety, water and fire prevention issues surrounding the winery. Kathy is a teacher. They regularly attend of all the major winery festivities.
Ryan and Shannon share a love of wine and family, and live in southern California with their daughters Brynne and Genevieve. Ryan helped to manage the winery when it opened and now runs his father’s insurance business in Southern California. Shannon has a thriving physical therapy practice.
SKINNER HISTORICAL SITE
The original Skinner Ranch was located in what is now known as the town of Rescue. In the 1860s, it was named Skinners, California and remains an unincorporated township that still appears on most maps.
The original cellar from the J. Skinner Winery still exists and was home in recent years to the Cameron Park Nursery.
In early 2014, Mike and Carey Skinner purchased the property with the goal of preserving it and protecting it from development.
The area around Skinners, CA today is paved with vines planted by Mike and Carey, vines that they refer to as Legacy Grapes – James’ original varieties, including Mission, Zinfandel, Trousseau, Grenache, Carignane and the Skinner clone of Petit Bouschet.
“From what we’ve learned about James Skinner,” says Mike, “he was a very forward-thinking guy. We really believe he’d like what we’ve done with the heritage he left us.”
James Skinner grew up in Scotland and became an engineer. In 1842 he brought his wife, Jessie, and oldest son, James Jr., to Massachusetts. Like many American immigrants, he made his way west during the Gold Rush, starting near Coloma where gold was discovered, then moving up the streams and rivers of the low Sierra foothills. Eventually, James did well enough to buy land and create Skinner Ranch.
The ranch ran along a well-traveled road that later became the Pony Express Trail (now Green Valley Road). In 1861, he began making good use of the transportation thoroughfare, planting vineyards and founding the J. Skinner Native Wine and Brandy Co., one of the first commercial vineyards in California, and by 1883, one of the largest. James also built a multi-story, cutting-edge distillery with a boiler room powered by a six-horsepower engine.
J. Skinner Winery operated into the early 20th century. James was also a benefactor of his community, supporting his neighbors and donating land for public use, including the plots where the current Rescue fire station and post office now stand.
100+ Year Old Mission VinesThe legacy of the Mission Grape is as organic to California’s history as winemaking itself. Prior to his death in 1885, the Mission Grape had afforded J. Skinner a significant cellar of both Mission wine, which he called Mission Claret, and Angelica. Originally planted by the Franciscan missionaries in the 1700s to produce Sacramental wine and Angelica, a sweet grape juice fortified with brandy, the vines nearly disappeared during 1920s prohibition. As part of our goal to honor the Skinner legacy, we searched out and acquired 22 ancient Mission vines dated to around 1900. The old, twisted vines of storied treasure remain true to their prolific history today and are used in our legacy Native Red blend as well as in the production of our Angelica.
Green Valley Ranch is located in Rescue, California adjacent to the original J. Skinner property. At 1,400 feet elevation, its soils are alluvial in nature, a result of sediment and soil coming down from the Sierra. A common base layer of decomposed granite is found throughout the vineyard, which acts as a barrier to the roots. Blocks vary in depth and composition depending on the contours, and varietals and rootstocks are matched accordingly. Iron rich, red, volcanic loam and some clay make up the soil profile with small-to-large chunks of granite and quartz scattered throughout the strata at all depths.
Red Varietals: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre
White Varietals: Grenache Blanc, Picpoul Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, Rolle
Appellation: El Dorado
Elevation: 1,400 feet
Acres: 25 acres, 12 planted
Our Fair Play AVA estate ranch, Stoney Creek Vineyard, is made up of decomposed granite, which limits yields and adds complexity and minerality to the finished wines. Most of our property is rather steep, the soils rocky and deep, making an aerative home for our roots.
Pushing 3000 feet elevation and a south-facing aspect, Stoney Creek enjoys warm, dry days and brisk, breezy nights as cool air drains down from the Sierra, maintaining a rather temperate microclimate for our vines. The resulting wines are concentrated and earthy.
Red Varietals: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Counoise, Zinfandel, Carignan, Trousseau, Petite Bouschet, Mission
White Varietals: Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul Blanc, Trousseau Gris
Appellation: Fair Play
Elevation: 2,300 – 2,740 feet
Acres: 67 acres, 18 planted
While still a young vineyard, Wing Ranch shows incredible promise to produce elegant wines with sturdy tannins, vibrant acidity and concentrated, pure fruit. The red hued soil found on Wing Ranch are part of the Rescue series with similar composition to neighboring Green Valley Ranch. Its well-drained, sandy-loam is specific to the uplands northeast of Bass Lake.
What sets this unique site apart is the two adjacent, southeast-facing hillsides unlike Green Valley Ranch which is uniformly in the flats. Considerably warmer as you climb in elevation and littered with large chunks of granite and quartz offering an incredible micro-climate for the Grenache and Mourvèdre planted there. Sheltered from the Sacramento Valley’s drying Delta breezes while remaining open to the cool mountain air from the Sierra Nevadas in the evenings makes for impressive diurnal temperature swings.
Red Varietals: Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Counoise
White Varietals: Grenache Blanc
Appellation: El Dorado
Elevation: 1,400-2,000 feet
Acres: 37 acres, 5 planted
We pull additional fruit sources in from different parts of El Dorado County in order to make blends that are deeply complex. We rely on the Apple Hill/Camino region for brighter, almost electric fruit. We look to the lower elevation sites along the edge of the American River Canyon for black fruit and supple but intense tannins. We source from the Pleasant Valley region (just to the North of Fair Play) for fruit in the more purple, floral part of the spectrum.
It is a jigsaw puzzle we giddily assemble each year in order to make wines that speak to the entire El Dorado County region, which is nothing short of magical.
Our amazing small vineyards include:
Camino Ridge Vineyard
Ellen Ridge Vineyard
Sumu Kaw Vineyard
Von Heune Vineyard
The Skinner Winery embodies the adventurous spirit exemplified by James Skinner as a California Gold Rush pioneer and wine maker, blending old-world skill and traditions with advanced environmental opportunities that protect and respect our land and future.
Built with 80% recycled steel, our spacious, 12,000 sq ft. winery was carefully designed to support chemical-free, small-lot fermentations for uncompromised quality within an energy-efficient environment that incorporates solar power, night air fans and strategically placed, humidity-controlled work bays to the north.
Our beautiful landscaping is comprised of native, drought-resistant plants, irrigated with grey water recycled from the winery.
I'm a valley native with a Fresno State enology education. Joining Skinner meant leaving behind production agriculture for a more intimate pursuit of my obsession with grape and wine. At Skinner, we are fortunate to nurture small lot, mountain grown fruit through native fermentations to fully express a time and place. I have never been so proud of my work.
DIRECTOR OF HOSPITALITY & MARKETING
Stephanie brings impressive wine business experience to Skinner, including as a manager at Rutherford Grove Winery and at Grgich Hills Estate in Napa before Carey and Mike lured her to the beauty of the foothills.