Based on a recommendation, I found myself driving along windy roads through the Sierra Foothills with my friend Cathy in search of a winery called Skinner Vineyards & Winery in California’s El Dorado County. We weren’t sure what to expect (neither of us had been to the Fair Play AVA). But, sometimes the unknown makes the journey worth taking.
Our jaws dropped as we rounded that final bend toward the hilltop estate. At 2,600 feet, the view of the Sierra Foothills was breathtaking—so much that we took our time getting to the tasting room, oohing an aahing our way around the landscaped grounds. Three-thousand square feet of outdoor terraces provide room for tasting and seating, along with a wood-fire pizza oven and three fireplaces. A spring wagon and a wine press, both from the 1860s, add rustic charm.
We arrived on a Monday and were the only guests there. The quietness was Zen-like, and the sound of water trickling from a decorative pond gave me pause. So I relaxed in one of the cushy chairs on the upper outdoor deck, where I pondered life while gazing at the nearly dormant old Grenache vine adjacent to the pond.
The Skinner property captivates your visual senses, and even calms your soul, but, it is the wine that is oh so satisfying—think, velvety tannins.
Skinner specializes in varietals patterned after Rhone wines. Three wines in particular got my attention, with the 2012 Dry Diggings forever etched on my mind. This wine is always a Syrah-based blend: the 2012 is 33 percent Syrah, with Grenache, Mourvédre, Petite Sirah and Counoise (Counoise is a black-skinned grape that adds a peppery note and good acidity to a red blend). This full-bodied wine fills the senses with aromas of meat, plum, and blackberry with hints of tar, anise, black pepper and dried flowers. The palate has bright acidity.
Unlike the Diggings Syrah-based blend, the Eighteen Sixty-One blend is Grenache-driven. The 2012 vintage—which includes Mourvédre, Counoise, Syrah and Viognier—has aromas of raspberry and dark cherry. Notes of clove, nutmeg and vanilla dance on top of earthy notes of forest floor, dried herbs and pipe tobacco. A touch of minerality and fresh acidity complement the finish.
The Estate Grenache is one of the five varietals planted at the original J. Skinner Winery in the 1860s. The 2012 vintage is 100 percent Grenache produced from three different clones, which result in a complex wine with deep character. This Grenache wants to be seen and heard: ruby-red with aromas of dark cherry, raspberry and sage. The palate is similar but with rich flavors of plum, surrounded by modest tannin and good acidity—all leading to a lingering finish of mineral and holiday spice. This is my type of Grenache: bold and chewy.
Skinner Vineyards & Winery
All other photos courtesy of Cathy Bentley