With no fewer than seven key players named “Skinner”, Skinner Vineyards & Winery is indeed a family business. Add to that the fact that the founders are fifth generation direct descendants of the founder of one of Amador County’s first wineries – the site of which is a mile or so from the present winery – and you’ve got a story that your PR department would never tire of telling.
When not building Skinner’s reputation for quality Rhone varietals at reasonable prices, winemaker Chris Pittinger is busy creating a solid and loyal fan base for his own limited production Pinot Noir – Gros Ventre – crafting five wines from four sources, including the highly prized Cerise Vineyard in the Anderson Valley.
I caught up with Chris and one of those Skinner guys at the Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting, held for the first time at the Craneway Pavilion at Ford Point in Richmond.
2012 Skinner Picpoul Blanc Estate – two barrels produced – the balance of the fruit goes into a white blend.
The aromas suggest crisp, mineral driven rather than fruit driven, but the texture of the wine in the mouth is surprisingly soft, broad and ‘oily’, more reminiscent, perhaps, of a Marsanne. (The wine sees only stainless steel, but does go through malolactic fermentation.) The flavors are more mineral than fruit driven, however, leaving my palate – well…a bit confused – not my favorite iteration of this variety. I would love to taste this wine in a different vintage.
2012 Skinner Grenache Blanc – certainly fruit driven aromatics – more in the yellow nectarine and not-quite-ripe apricot range – bright with some crispness up front – the flavors follow the aromas with an additional hit of wet stones – the flavors linger on the palate – quite clean with a nice follow. Well done.
2012 Skinner Grenache – 100% Grenache –
Light garnet color in the glass – most decidedly Old World Grenache aromas – shows hints of elusive tar/asphalt/loamy/earthy notes that are quite fascinating. (Can you tell I ran into TomHill while dictating notes on this wine?) The flavors and texture are more mouth filling than the colors and aromas might suggest – there’s a richness and concentration of flavors – all Grenache – that spread out across the palate. It is bright in character as one might expect from this variety. There is still some tannic astringency that will settle down with a little time, but a lovely expression of the varietal.
2012 Skinner Mourvedre – dark and deep colors in the glass – again, quite Rhone in aromatic character – dark and brooding, but fairly expressive – medium to full bodied in the mouth with rich plumy flavors and a touch of animale – moderate but smooth tannins suggest the best is yet to come – this wine has a lot of personality. Nice.
2011 Skinner “1861” – 44% Grenache, 28% Syrah, 28% Mourvedre – a touch of funk in the nose that blows off pretty quickly – a pretty friendly entry – medium to full bodied with pleasant compote of dark purple and black fruits – smooth tannins add structure and grip with enough hints of earth and other “place driven” elements to provide more interest. This is a very enjoyable, but not special GSM blend.
2010 Skinner Syrah – 98% Syrah, cofermented with 2% Viognier – rich and dark color in the glass – rather rich, concentrated and ripe aromatics that give way to earthy, loam and mushroom characteristics – the aromas suggest a ripe, perhaps over ripe wine, but not so in the mouth – there is no sense of late picking in the flavors – very pretty, almost a perfect stylistic marriage of northern and southern Rhone. Truly enjoyable to drink – still a couple of years away from optimal drinkability for my palate, but you could easily give this a little air and time and drink it tonight – a very, very pretty wine.
I learned just enough about these folks to want to learn more – and I will. They are on my “A list” of Sierra Foothill wineries to visit and I encourage you to get to know them and their wines.