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Skinner Vineyards and Winery Reclaims Family History More than 150 years ago, James Skinner founded a vineyard in the Sierra Foothills. Now the family of his descendant is renewing the Skinner legacy.

By Touring and Tasting

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The story of Skinner Vineyards and Winery begins 160 years ago, when James Skinner, a pioneering Scottish immigrant, came to the Sierra Foothills to find his fortune during the California Gold Rush. He planted a vineyard in 1860 and started one of the first commercial wineries in the area. It remained in operation into the early 1900s. After that, the Skinner family moved on, leaving only their name behind.

Five generations and a century later, Northern California native Kevin Skinner and his wife Kathy were driving through the area when they discovered the name "Skinner[s]" on their road atlas. After some investigation, the couple located the remnants of J. Skinner Winery. When they returned home they told Kevin's father, Mike, who didn't know whether there was a family connection, but learned through a little more research that he was indeed the great-great-great-grandson of James Skinner.

Mike's wife, Carey, a successful real estate executive, was inspired by the beauty of the area and thought that it was time for the family to reclaim its wine-growing roots. In 2006, they purchased a 25-acre ranch a mile or so from the old winery, where they planted their first wine grapes. Soon after, they bought some land with existing vineyards on a ridgetop with stunning views all the way to the Coastal Range to the west and the Sierra to the east.

Skinner Vineyards and Winery Reclaims Family History

Today, Skinner Vineyards and Winery has two estate vineyards located within a short drive from the original winery. Stoney Creek Vineyard in Fair Play is the larger, and also the higher of the two, with elevations of up to 2,470 feet. White Oaks Flat Vineyard sits much lower, at 1,400 feet, in a valley in the El Dorado AVA. The vineyards are farmed sustainably and the Skinners are committed to continually expanding and improving their growing practices.

The family's commitment to ecology is evident at the sleek new 12,000-square-foot winery as well, which was positioned to utilize natural energy sources. Eighty percent of the building is made of recycled steel, and it is equipped with an efficient solar-power energy system, temperature-controlled sensors and roll-up doors in the barrel room on the north side of the building.

Winemaker Chris Pittenger has worked with respected wineries in New Zealand, Australia, Sonoma County and the Napa Valley. Chris is excited about the new winery facility and the vineyards. "Every year we're learning more and more about the region and the fruit's potential, " Chris says. Skinner Vineyards and Winery is committed to producing wines that reflect the spirit of the Sierra Foothills and uses many of the same Rhône varieties that James Skinner used 160 years ago. The portfolio includes Syrah, Grenache, Rosé, Mourvèdre, Viognier and two proprietary blends. Seven Generations is a blend of Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier; and Eighteen Sixty-One is a Southern Rhône-style blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah.

The winery's stunning new tasting room is located at the very top of the Skinner property, offering panoramic views in all directions. Visitors choose a spot on the 3,000-square-foot patio to sit back and savor the 360-degree vista stretching from the Sierra Mountains to Pyramid Peak in Tahoe. On chilly days, the inside fireplaces warm guests who are delighted with the scenery and the exceptional wines of Skinner Vineyards and Winery.

What to Buy:
'07 Syrah, Stoney Creek Vineyard -- Blackberry, hints of pepper, chocolate caramel, roasted coffee $34
'08 Eighteen Sixty-One -- Black cherry, ripe strawberry, Asian spice, forest floor $30
'10 Grenache Blanc -- Nashi pear, Honeycrisp apple, hints of citrus, melon rind, $20
'10 Grenache -- Dried cranberry, fresh fig, sage, clove, anise, nutmeg $26


Tasting Room Open Fri–Sun 11–5
8054 Fairplay Rd
Fair Play, CA 95684

Special Notes:
Private tastings and tours by appointment, spacious picnic patio for patrons, spectacular scenic view, wine club events, winemaker dinners

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