There are so many unique and high quality wines produced along The Wine Road surrounding Healdsburg but none more special than Skipstone Ranch. Nestled in the rolling hills south-east of Geyserville, Skipstone is the love child of entrepreneur and Cypriot émigré, Fahri Diner. This 200 acre ranch, acquired by Diner in 2001, is certified organic and specializes in small lot estate grown wines and, similarly, small production estate grown olive oil. Diner’s youth in Cyprus as the son and grandson of olive growers is perhaps the reason he found Skipstone so alluring.
Skipstone’s 29 acres of grapes are dedicated to producing high quality Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier with other Bordeaux varietals blended to enhance flavor profiles, structure and complexity. Winemaker, Philippe Melka, a Bordeaux University trained geologist, developed his winemaking chops under the tutelage of world-renowned winemakers in France, Italy and ultimately emigrated to Napa Valley in 1994. Philippe shares Fahri’s attachment to the land and allows the terroir to be expressed through the wines. Somewhat parallel to the first rule of physicians, do no harm. It is this same philosophy that drives his reluctance to employ any significant quantity of new oak.
This visit included a wine and food pairing as well as a glorious tour of the ranch (which also has sheep, goats, cows and chickens) and gardens. Amy Schaefers, Estate Chef and Hospitality Coordinator, arranges the private tours. Amy graduated from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Hyde Park. She brings her training and experience to produce exquisite (and charming) food pairings with the mouth-watering wines of Skipstone.
The most gracious of hosts, Amy poured three wines for tasting. A 2010 Viognier and 2 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005 and 2008. She had already prepared a small plate for each guest that was intended to highlight and enhance the flavors of the different wines. The Viognier (one could taste the grapes!) was paired with a fresh apricot, cheese from xxx creamery and a mint leaf. The crisp acid and the tropical flavors from the wine were pleasantly amplified with the contrasting sweetness of the apricot and the slight pungency of the cheese. The older (2005 Cabernet which is a blend of 65% CS, 25% Merlot and 5% ea of Malbec and Petite Verdot (all estate) was the early favorite. Smooth and supple with plenty of fruit remaining. This Cab was paired with a fig and ricotta cheese crostini. Again, the wine alone was delectable but this food pairing hit the mark. Finally, the 2008 Cabernet which is 94% CS and 6% Cabernet Franc, became smoother as the tannins dissipated the longer it sat in the glass. The pairing of dark chocolate (a little sea salt) and wild strawberry was masterful. In all cases the wines were complex, well-rounded, full-bodied and achieved the flavor profile one would hope for in high quality wines.
The wine is pricey but considering the quality, limited production (~500 cases depending upon the vintage) and the team of experts employed to manage the vineyards and the winemaking, the prices are justified.
Fahri’s Skipstone team is fortunate to have the vineyard management expertise of Ulises Valdez at work in the Skipstone vineyards on a daily basis. Ulises manages approximately 1000 acres of premium vineyards and has worked with many of the best known winemakers in Sonoma and Napa including Paul Hobbs, Kent Rosenblum, Rolando Herrera et al. He also is the proprietor/owner of Valdez Family Winery located in Cloverdale. His Valdez family wines have been served in the White House for a state dinner.
Skipstone’s team is rounded out by Emily Wines, Master Sommelier and director of wines for all Kimpton Hotel Group Restaurants. Emily earned her stripes under Rajat Parr. She is joined by Amigo Bob Cantisano, Organic Farming Specialist; Brook Drummond, General Manager and Amy Schaefers.
Skipstone is located just about 15 minutes northeast of Healdsburg and about the same from Geyserville. If you are interested in visiting, call 707-433-9124 or visit the website and click ‘Visit”. The property is gated and it wouldn’t be neighborly to show up unannounced. Definitely worth the effort to arrange a private tour and tasting. If you are lucky, the charismatic Mr. Diner may even greet you on your arrival.