Head north on Highway 101 past Healdsburg to the Lytton Station exit. Go east on Alexander Valley Road, then north on Route 128. Then, oh who am I kidding, you’re never going to find this place on your own. Unlike every other winery in these parts, there are no signs to point the way to Skipstone Ranch. Not a one. And that’s exactly how they like it.
The Skipstone estate is comprised of 200 acres with 30 of them planted to Cabernet, Cab Franc, Merlot and Malbec. The vineyard is tucked into a natural amphitheater formed by steep mountain slopes. Along the top six rows that circle the hillside, there is, quite magically, a swath of Viognier. The owner loves this Rhone varietal and wanted desperately to see how it would do in this climate. Turns out, fabulously.
Skipstone’s winemaker is none other than Phillipe Melka. You don’t know Phillippe? Maybe you’ve heard of his clients: Bryant, Caldwell, Constant, Dalle Valle, Dana, Gandona, Gemstone, Hundred Acre, Quintessa, Seavey, Tusk, Vineyard 29. The guy is huge demand and for good reason: he delivers top scores year in and year out.
Our host for the day was Amy Schaeffers, who is not only the estate’s Hospitality Director but also a CIA-trained chef. Walking us through the vineyards she noted that there are some 42 separate blocks, each with its own separate, finely tuned irrigation system. At harvest, workers pass through the rows multiple times to pick only the ripest clusters. Once in the cellar, all the current artisanal practices are put to work: cold soaking, native-yeast fermentation, extended maceration and gravity feeding.
The farming here is garden-quality. Which makes sense considering all the things they’ve got growing besides grapes. There are 550 Manzanillo olive trees, a sprawling vegetable garden, a tidy orchard and a coop of prolific chickens that allow Amy to serve breakfast to the crew.
Following our walk, we settled at a long shaded table for our tasting. The lineup included Oliver’s Blend (95% Cabernet plus 5% Cab Franc), named for the owner’s son; Faultline (95% Cab Franc plus 5% Cabernet), named for the property’s distinguishing geologic feature; and an extra virgin olive oil named for the owner’s daughter Melina.
If I had to pick between the two wines my preference would be the Faultline. The aromatics and acidity made me return to the glass again and again. What with all the local cheese Amy had put out, it wasn’t terribly hard to sip the afternoon away.
While the wine is currently made off site, they have plans to dig a cave into the hillside and bring it all in house, with a goal of maxing out at 2,000 cases. Other plans include building out more space to host guests. Skipstone is a very special place if you happen to find yourself at the upper reaches of Napa or Sonoma. For us it was darn near perfect.