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Skinner Grenache 2015
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 was totally abandoned, along with its vineyards. 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.
Enjoying great glory across a variety of appellations, Grenache thrives in any warm, Mediterranean climate where ample sunlight allows its clusters to achieve full phenolic ripeness. The grape typically produces full-bodied reds interestingly light in both color and tannins. While it can make a charmingly complex single varietal wine, it also lends well to blending. Grenache's birthplace is Spain (there called Garnacha) where it remains important, particularly in Priorat where winemakers enjoy great liberties in blending Grenache with other varieties. Today it might be most well associated with the red blends of the Southern Rhône, namely Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côtes du Rhône and its Villages. The Italian island of Sardinia produces bold, rustic Grenache (there called Cannonau) whereas in California, Washington and Australia, Grenache has achieved popularity both flying solo and in blends.
In the Glass
In sufficiently warm conditions, Grenache produces smooth and generous wines that are loaded with strawberry, cherry blackberry, purple plum and in the richest examples, even cocoa, black tea or licorice.
Despite its bold flavors, Grenache has very mild-mannered tannins, which makes it eminently quaffable on its own, yet easy to match with food. Because of its friendly nature, Grenache is the ultimate barbecue red, pairing happily with lamb chops, pork loin or tri-tip. Unlike most other full-bodied reds, Grenache’s low tannin level ensures that it will not easily be fazed by a bit of spice.
Sardinia is often revered for its association with a long and healthy life. Residents of the Italian island often live well into their 90s and beyond, crediting this to their antioxidant-rich red wines, like Cannonau, along with their healthy Mediterranean diet.