Skinner: The Road to El Dorado

The folks at Holly’s Hill had given us many recommendations for tasting in Fair Play, but one name stuck with us: Skinner. Dick gave us fantastic, precise directions. And thank goodness for that; it’s easy to get lost in Fair Play. Deliciously, deliciously lost.

Lunch in Fair Play: Bocconato

These directions took us past a restaurant called Bocconato, at which we had one of the best meals of our life. Seriously, it was one of those kinds of meals that makes me want to force everyone driving within 100 miles of the place to eat there, especially since the restaurant will be closing down on December 31.

Bocconato is part of the Slow Food movement, so it’s not the kind of restaurant that you go to expecting to be in and out in 15 minutes. There’s no menu. They have different courses written on the chalkboard (salad, pasta, entree, etc.); you tell them which courses you want and what foods you don’t eat, and they surprise you with a fantastic meal. I had the best lasagna of my life – I had no idea they could make noodles that thin! – and Mike had chicken cacciatore that he said tasted like the way you always imagine chicken will taste but it never actually does (except, apparently, here).

Unfortunately, many of the people who came in seemed to be confused by the concept and annoyed by the leisurely pace; I think this could have been overcome by setting their expectations the moment they walked in the door and explaining the concept. If Mike hadn’t spotted the Slow Food sticker in the window, I might have been frustrated as well; instead, I knew what to expect and now I want to go back — which has become our refrain for the Sierra Foothills.


Just a short drive away, we turned off for Skinner. As we drove up the road, nature slowly unveiled breathtaking views.

Skinner Vineyards
This is just the kind-of-scenic bit.

The Skinner website’s Tasting Room page says they have “the most breath-taking tasting room in all of the Sierra Foothills.” That’s no lie.

Skinner Vineyards
That mountain in the distance? That's Holly's Hill!

A Skinner ancestor started a winery here in 1861. The Skinner family has placed historic items around the winery, featuring informative plaques that explain the items. As a history buff, I was thrilled.

Skinner Vineyards
Breathtaking views + history = my kind of place.

This tasting room absolutely wins the “Most Picturesque” award of the year. The views were astounding and the building itself was also gorgeous.

Skinner Vineyards
The tasting room, thoroughly modern, references architectural elements that existed in the original building.


Okay, so the visuals were exquisite. Could the wines possibly live up to the views?

Skinner: The Wines

2009 Stony Creek Viognier (Fair Play):  It smelled of clementine blossoms and had a flavor like evaporating flowers. Really interesting! Mike tasted grass, pear and wood and found it complex with a warm finish.

2008 Seven Generations (El Dorado):  This blend of roussanne, marsanne and viognier had a scent with notes of honey, grapefruit and pears. The flavor was very complex, with elements of both nougat and citrus pith.

2008 Eighteen Sixty-One (El Dorado):  This blend, named after the year the winery was founded, uses grenache, mourvedre and syrah. It smelled like a winter evening gathered around a Christmas tree in front of the fireplace. When I tasted it, I got a hit that reminded me of the acid flavors in kiwi and pineapple, and also a strong hint of plum.

2007 Syrah (El Dorado): I tasted acid at the beginning, blueberries in the middle and a hint of unsweetened chocolate at the finish. Mike enjoyed a perfume quality in the aroma and though the finish had a nice spiciness.

2007 Stoney Creek Vineyard Syrah (Fair Play): It smelled like vanilla that had been sitting in oak. Mike thought the aroma had a berry component as well. The flavor had those elements as well, plus pepper, tannins and toast.

As we drove into the sunset our day ended with the happiness of enjoying some great wines in a stunning location. Our only regret was that we didn’t have another day or two to spend. We’ve already added El Dorado and the surrounding country to our short list of places to visit again soon.