The SOMM Journal

August / September 2016

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Page 44 of 148

A view of the amphitheater setting of some of the microblocks at Skipstone Ranch. THE AMPHITHEATER-SHAPED VINEYARD IS BREATHTAKING. Viognier vines line the north ridge of the steeply terraced hillside in a remote inlet in the back roads of Sonoma's Alexander Valley. Skipstone Ranch is a spiritual natural setting—which just so happens to rest on one of California's most active faultlines. Almost a dozen (small) earthquakes occur on the property every day. We are here tasting with appropriately named Master Sommelier Emily Wines, who has taken flight from her prestigious former position as Corporate Senior Director of Beverage & Bar with The Kimpton Hotel group to (possibly) slow down in the vortex of this vinous retreat. "I worked bottle-to-glass for so long, and now it's grape-to-bottle," she says of her role as General Manager for Skipstone. As the brand's Ambassador, Wines does make sales calls, but sales of the limited- edition, 1,000-case label are small enough for her to pick and choose the accounts. Winemaker Philippe Melka has created structurally defined wines: a vivacious Viognier and well-developed Bordeaux varieties. This is the renowned winemaker's only project outside of Napa Valley. Winery owner Fahri Diner was born in Cyprus from generations of olive farmers, and he oversees his own operation at the ranch, growing Manzanilla olive, a Spanish varietal, and producing an oil that has perfumed, grassy, earthy notes and stone fruit on the palate, with a "greeny," pungent finish. Like his wines, the olives are CCOF-certified Organic, and Diner, who has a passion for green technology, uses such advanced tech as dimmable solar panels as well as more earthy approaches such as apiary and the planting of garden crops to bolster the soil. "We also manage our own water and irrigation," Wines points out a pond on our walk through the vineyards. We're high on Alexander Valley as it is (see our big story on page 72), and this spectacular example of its topography and diverse soils—Wines looks at the prop - erty as 42 microblocks—proves that the quality of this land and its grape offspring are, quite literally, shaking things up. Skipstone 2014 Viognier ($52) sends flowers scent-sationally. Peach blossom, lemon zest and "crunchy" Asian pear are tastefully carried across the palate. This is the only Viognier that Melka produces. Skipstone 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon ($125) is feminine, with a whip. The domi - natrix effect shows on the tarry, ashy tannins, with ripe, toasted bay leaf and tar- ragon. "Punch and kiss," says Wines when we discuss its Right Bank personality (63% Caber net Franc, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot). She shows her fruit and flower with waves of blueberry, dusty plum and a violet (not violent) espresso finish. Oliver's Blend 2013 ($125) is the flagship Cabernet Sauvignon for the brand (with 12% Merlot). You can taste the concentration of black fruit and structured firm, if not grainy, tannins. Grilled meat, cedar and tobacco take charge at the finish. Who's holding the whip now? Emily Wines, MS is the brand Ambassador and GM for Skipstone from Alexander Valley in northern Sonoma County. SKIPSTONE RANCH RESTS ON THE MAYACAMA FAULTLINE, MAKING FOR DRAMATIC VINEYARD SHAPE AND UNIQUE SOIL VARIATION by Meridith May These Wines Move Us 44 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2016 { sonoma }

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