Skinner Vineyards was founded in 2007 by Mike and Carey Skinner after their son, Kevin, made an interesting discovery about their ancestors one day driving back to Santa Cruz from Lake Tahoe. Kevin and his wife, Kathy were following a different route home when they noticed the name ‘Skinners’ on an old map near Placerville. After a little genealogy research, they learned that Mike was the great-great-great grandson of James Skinner, a Scottish engineer who came to the Sierra Foothills during the gold rush to try his hand at mining. It turns out, he was one of the lucky few who did indeed strike gold and was able to purchase land and establish a ranch along a well paved road that became the Pony Express Trail. In 1861, James, ever the forward thinking, enterprising gent, planted one of California’s first commercial vineyards and used his engineering expertise to build a winery and a multi-story state-of-the art distillery. Once Mike and Carey realized the extent of James’ formidable influence in Skinners, they knew they had to “buy property, plant vines and reclaim the family legacy.” To honor James, they planted many of the varieties he had like California Mission, Zinfandel and Rhône grapes such as Grenache and Carignane, to which they added Syrah, Mourvèdre, Counoise, Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul to name a few. Hiring Chris Pittenger (whose ‘Gros Ventre’ label rosé we featured in our April club) as their winemaker was their final task to complete the creation of one of the top wineries in Sierra Foothills.
The Skinners thought of another fun way to honor James with the creation of white and red Rhône blends under the name ‘Smithereens’ in reference to a miner’s use of dynamite to “blow things to Smithereens”. This 2016 White is 37% Grenache Blanc, 29% Viognier, 26% Roussanne and 8% Marsanne that was aged for nine months in 77% seasoned oak barrels and 23% stainless steel. The nose is all about the classic stone fruit aromas these white Rhône grapes typically bring, as in white peach, nectarine and apricot, with a little added nuance of lemon and honey. Chris included a single barrel of skin contact Grenache Blanc which adds to the overall density of the wine and its almost mouth-coating, supple texture. Yet, the neutral oak and stainless steel prevent the wine from being cloying or rich, and those juicy stone fruit flavors abound on the medium-bodied palate which also play nicely with notes of Golden Delicious apple. The honey comes through on the finish of medium-plus acidity and the wine leaves an impression of something akin to crème brûlée or a vanilla and fruit custard, though not in an overly sweet way. As Chris says, “the wine starts out broad and finishes with focus and persistence.”