Skinner El Dorado Syrah 2014
Kevin and Kathy Skinner are young, outdoorsy people and were heading home to Santa Cruz from Lake Tahoe. Kathy is a teacher and has a thing for maps. On an old dog-eared road atlas, she saw something – a spot on the map called Skinners, CA in the low foothills next to a town called Rescue.
They detoured to Rescue, stopped at a small shopping center, and asked folks in stores about the name. Many people knew the history: A Scottish miner named James Skinner had done well during the Gold Rush, bought land, planted vineyards, and started a winery and distillery at that very spot.
They pointed Kevin and Kathy to ground with markers on a knoll looking over the area. The plot was a century-old cemetery called Skinner Ranch Cemetery. Kevin called his dad, Mike, sent pictures, and asked, “Are we related?”
Mike had no idea, but was instantly drawn to the mystery. He contacted the Pioneer Cemetery Commission, and it turns out that they did! They sent him a family tree:
It started with James Skinner, then came his first son, James Jr. The second James also had a first son named James. The third James named his first son Frank Edward Skinner. Mike knew that name. Frank Edward Skinner was Mike’s grandfather. The original James who settled the lush spot and planted one of California’s first commercial vineyards was Mike’s great, great, great grandfather.
“I suddenly had a big family history and a huge legacy to live up to….I was the first son of the first son of the first son of the first son of the first son of the first son!” Mike says. “I still get goosebumps when I tell the story.”
Passion doesn’t begin to describe Mike’s excitement about the history and the land. By the end of 2006, Mike and his wife, Carey, had bought property in “Skinners” and started planting their own vineyards. In 2007, they acquired more vineyards and land also in El Dorado County on a ridge top on the steep green hills around Fair Play. They began building the latest stage of the family legacy: the now acclaimed Skinner Vineyards & Winery.
As home to California’s highest altitude vineyards, El Dorado is also one of its oldest wine growing regions. When gold miners settled here in the late 1800s, many also planted vineyards and made wine to quench its local demand.
By 1870, El Dorado County, as part of the greater Sierra Foothills growing area, was among the largest wine producers in the state, behind only Los Angeles and Sonoma counties. The local wine industry enjoyed great success until just after the turn of the century when fortune-seekers moved elsewhere and its population diminished. With Prohibition, winemaking and grape growing was totally abandoned. But some of these vines still exist today and are the treasure chest of the Sierra Foothills as we know them.
El Dorado has a diverse terrain with elevations ranging from 1,200 to 3,500 feet, creating countless mesoclimates for its vineyards. This diversity allows success with a wide range of grapes including whites like Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as for reds, Grenache, Syrah, Tempranillo, Barbera and especially, Zinfandel.
Soils tend to be fine-grained volcanic rock, shale and decomposed granite. Summer days are hot but nights are cool and the area typically gets ample precipitation in the form or rain or snow in the winter.
Marked by an unmistakable deep purple hue and savory aromatics, Syrah accounts for a good deal of some of the most intense, powerful and age-worthy reds in the world. Native to the Northern Rhône, Syrah still achieves some of its maximum potential here, especially from Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie.
Syrah also plays an important component in the canonical Southern Rhône blends based on Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, adding color, depth, complexity and structure to the mix. Today these blends have become well-appreciated from key appellations of the New World, namely Australia, California and increasingly, with praise, from Washington.
In the Glass
Syrah typically shows aromas and flavors of purple fruits, fragrant violets, baking spice, white pepper and even bacon, smoke or black olive. In Australia, where it goes under the name Shiraz, it produces deep, dark, intense and often, jammy reds. While Northern Rhône examples are typically less fruity and more earthy, California appears increasingly capable of either style.
Flavorful Moroccan-spiced lamb, grilled meats, spareribs and hard, aged cheeses are perfect with Syrah. Blue cheeses are perfect with a dense and fruit-driven Australian Shiraz.
Due to the success of Australian “Shiraz,” winemakers throughout the world have adopted this synonym for Syrah when they have produced a plush and fruit forward wine made in the Australian style. As an aside, Australians are also fond of tempering their fruit-forward Shiraz by blending with Cabernet Sauvignon, which adds depth and structure.