Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sierra Foothill Winery Briefs: Skinner Vineyards, Laraine Winery

I like to refer to the Sierra Foothills as “the next Napa”, but in some ways, that may be giving too much credit to Napa.  Don’t get me wrong, I like Napa wines and winemakers; however, I find it increasingly hard to look beyond the Disney-like atmosphere that happens in Napa on weekends and during Napa winery events. 
Last summer, I drove many miles to visit wineries and winemakers in the 11 counties that comprise my expanded version of the Sierra and its Foothills wine region:  Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Mariposa, Nevada, Placer, Sierra, Sutter, Tuolumne and Yuba in California, and Washoe County, Nevada.  Sierra County has yet to produce a vineyard or winery, but it won’t be long before it joins the other 250+ wineries.
Where to start?   I’m going to tell you about a few wineries that are high on my list, and one wine from each.  Get out your GPS, and visit them.  Much of this information below is drawn from their websites, by the way.  Until you visit these wineries physically, why not visit their websites?

Winemaker Chris Pittenger, left,
and Ryan Skinner, General Manager

In El Dorado County, Skinner Vineyards has a wine industry heritage tracing back to the Gold Rush days. Its  2008 El Dorado “Eighteen Sixty-One” is a blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Syrah, and is patterned after the wines of the Southern Rhône. The fruit is sourced from five high-altitude vineyards in El Dorado County which range in elevation from 2,700 to 2,850 feet. This complex blend combines aromas of black cherry, blueberry, and ripe strawberry with elements of Asian spice, forest floor, and leather. Modest tannins and ample acidity create a pleasant, balanced finish for this medium-bodied wine.    Bottle Price: $30
ABOUT THE WINERY:  Skinner Vineyards is committed to producing exceptional wines that reflect the unique spirit of the Sierra Foothills, using some of the same Rhône varietals that were grown by the Skinner family 150 years ago.  The new 12,000 square foot winery and tasting room at 2700-feet elevation in the Fair Play AVA of El Dorado County is solar powered and  incorporates many greentech/environmental features.   After mid-May, visit them at their absolutely spectacular tasting room, located in their Stoney Creek Vineyard, 8054 Fairplay Road, Fair Play, CA 95684.  Call for hours:  (310) 996 0220.  You can see Pyramid Peak from the top of their mountain vineyards, where the tasting room is located.
Laraine Winery, atop the rolling hills of Calaveras County, produces an explosive fruit-forward wine,  the  Scarlet Harlot.  Named after winery owner David Gerber's B-17 Bomber in WWII, it's a blend of estate grown Syrah, Merlot, Sangiovese, and Petite Sirah.  Robust with notes of currant, rhubarb, dark chocolate and blackberry preserves, it has polished tannins and lively structure.  Bottle price:  $22.
ABOUT THE WINERY:  Laraine is, in part, a Hollywood story.  Laraine Winery originally began as Gerber Vineyards, a small family-owned vineyard in 1989. Throughout the years, Laraine and David Gerber would escape their industry paced life in Hollywood by spending time in the idyllic township of Murphys, California. In the 1960's, David, along with some college friends from nearby UOP, bought the historic Murphys Hotel, and in the 1980's he chose the area as the location of his television series Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It was during this time that David and Laraine purchased a beautiful historic estate situated in an isolated valley outside of Murphys in the Sierra Foothills.  Now it  boasts the largest vineyards in Calavaras County offering award-winning estate Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Sangiovese.   Their tasting room is located at 3675 Six Mile Road, Vallecito, CA 95251.  Call (209) 736.4766 for hours.

Next in this series:  a few other wonderful El Dorado wineries: Boeger, C. G. DiArie  and Madrona .  More to come!

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