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Carey and Mike Skinner started Skinner Vineyards in 2006 after discovering that Mike was the great-great-great-grandson of James Skinner, a Scottish miner who established one of Sierra Foothills’ first wineries in 1861. Not only was it one of the first, but J. Skinner Native Wine and Brandy was also one of the largest and most popular wineries in California in the late 19th Century. It remained in operation into the early 1900s.
Mike Skinner had no knowledge of his ancestry until his son Kevin with wife Kathy noticed the name Skinner on an old roadside map. They detoured to the location and discovered their lost family history in the Sierra Foothills and in wine. Only months after learning about the Skinner legacy, Carey and Mike purchased a 25-acre ranch a mile or so from the original Skinner Winery and embraced their newfound heritage.
To honor their history, the Skinner family planted Rhône varieties on their land. While studying probate records, Mike learned that the original winery had grown Grenache, Carignane, Trousseau and a rare variety called Petit Bouschet. The couple planted these grapes as well as other Rhône varieties, including Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache Blanc. Today, they are committed to making elegant Rhone-style wines that express the distinct qualities of their granitic soils and meticulously farmed, high elevation vineyards. The wines are vinified in small lots, not fined, not filtered and made with minimal intervention to retain purity and convey their terroir. Oak is used in moderation.
The couple built their 12,000-square-foot winery on the ranch in 2010. Eighty percent of the building is made of recycled steel, and it is equipped with an efficient solar-power energy system. The landscape is comprised of native California drought resistant plants and shrubs to minimize water needs. When the plants are irrigated, they are done so with the grey water that is recycled from the winery after use. Resident goats roam the grounds.
Winemaker Adam Smith blends grapes from Skinner’s two estate vineyards, Stoney Creek and White Oak, along with purchased fruit from small vineyards located in El Dorado County. The vineyards are farmed with sustainable methods, and the Skinners are committed to continually expanding and improving their growing practices.
Stoney Creek Vineyard is at the Skinner winery site in the unique Fair Play AVA. Situated on a Saddleback ridgeline at 2,700 feet, its steep slopes and various aspects accommodate a wide range of varietals, clones, and rootstocks. The coarse, sandy soils are varied, but are similar in that they’re mainly comprised of decomposed granite, which limits yields and adds complexity and minerality to the finished wines. Stoney Creek’s 2,700-foot elevation means temperatures are about 2-5 degree cooler than other Foothills regions, with moderating breezes that upslope from the delta as temperatures rise throughout the day. In the evenings, cool air drains down from the Sierra, creating a terroir that is unique to Skinner Vineyards.
White Oak Vineyard 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.