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Skinner Vineyards: From Gold Mine to Wine

Skinner Vineyards: From Gold Mine to Wine

Sunset over Skinner vineyard in Fair Play | Photo Credit: Skinner Vineyards

On a sunny afternoon in the summer of 2006, Mike Skinner received a frantic call from his son, Kevin, that would change his life. 

On a return trip from Lake Tahoe, California, Kevin spotted a position on a map titled, “Skinners, CA”  in the low foothills near the town of Rescue in the Sierra Foothills. Kevin and his wife stopped in and learned that an old miner named James Skinner had bought land during the Gold Rush, planted grapes, and had set up a distillery.

After placing a few calls, Mike learned that James was, in fact, his great-great-grandfather. Within the next two weeks, he flew up to El Dorado County and purchased 25 acres himself with a ranch house, just a few miles from the original Skinner family property. Mike and his wife Carey discussed how to use the property and quickly realized that they wanted to be 100 percent committed to following in James’s footsteps—by planting grapes.

Mike and Carey Skinner | Photo Credit: Skinner Vineyards

They wanted their venture to focus on creating wines that were expressive of the region—while staying sustainably. The 12,000 square foot winery was designed with the environment in mind. Everything from the solar panels to the night air fans were strategically placed to reduce their carbon footprint while not compromising quality.

The Skinners hired Adam Smith to oversee the winemaking at Skinner Vineyards. Smith was born and raised in El Dorado County and gained extensive experience working in New Zealand, Oregon and Sonoma. “I employ techniques that encourage reductive fermentation and coax out silky, mouthwatering textures. With red wines, my goal is to harvest at optimal ripeness—not too early, not too late,” says Smith, “and with white wines, I’m interested in vibrancy.”

Adam Smith, Winemaker | Photo Credit: Skinner Vineyards

The winery is located in Fair Play at the south end of El Dorado County and vineyards sit at an elevation above 2,000 feet. “Our vineyard sites are tucked back up in the mountainsides, surrounded by tall pines and winding country roads. Our soils are well-drained decomposed granite, which makes for intensity in the fruit. Our cool, breezy nights keep things temperate, and with thoughtful farming, we are able to produce wines that are round and concentrated while being lively and structured,” says Smith. Fair Play is a rugged region that caters more to the adventurous wine enthusiasts. He continues, “As the wine industry continues to grow, there is an increasing sense of unity among producers here and we’ll be exploring ways—pioneering, if you will—to draw visitors into Fair Play.”

Syrah grapes ripening on the vines | Photo Credit: Skinner Vineyards

Smith notes that El Dorado County is ideally suited for Rhône grape varieties, both red and white. Mourvedre makes wines that show persistent depth of fruit and texture while Syrah has shown a great potential. “El Dorado-grown Syrah is the closest we have come to Old World vibes,” said Smith, “I’m quite driven to show the world how unbelievably gorgeous these wines can be.” 

With the COVID-19 pandemic, adjustments to their business model have meant that virtual tastings are the primary way that the family can connect with customers on a national level. At the end of the day, they see this as a way continue the legacy that James Skinner started in 1861. Carey Skinner says, “We approach the unknown with the same risk-taking and adventurous spirit that we believe James exemplified as a pioneer during the California Gold Rush. It is always our intention to push the boundaries by making beautiful wines that are a true expression of the varieties we use—balanced and elegant.”

Wine Recommendations

2018 Estate Mourvèdre

This wine is deep purple in color with flavors of dark cherry, brown sugar, and blueberry with a hint of spice on the finish. This wine feels balanced with its ABV of 13.8 percent, structured tannins, and bright acidity. The cuttings for this wine were brought to California in the 1860s in what was part of the Pellier Collection. Mourvedre makes up approximately 20 percent of the overall estate plantings. This wine is a blend from two estate vineyards, Stoney Creek Ranch in Fair Play and Green Valley Ranch in Rescue. This wine feels representative of El Dorado Country—high elevation, dry climate and rocky soils. 

2018 Estate Grenache

This wine is light, translucent, and garnet in color and has flavors of cherry. At 13.5 percent ABV, this wine has an Old-World restraint and maintains textured layers that would pair nicely with a margherita pizza.

2019 Grenache Blanc

The Grenache blanc has floral aromatics on the nose and flavors of green apple, pear, and stone fruit. This wine is at 12.8 percent ABV and would go great with a soft, creamy cheese like Brie or a medium-hard Swiss—a party starter.

2019 Rosé

This rosé has flavors of raspberry, mango and orange. It’s crisp and reminiscent of the southern shores of France. The grapes are sourced entirely from El Dorado made up of a blend of 37 percent Counoise, 32 percent Grenache, 21 percent Mourvedre, and 10 percent Cinsault.