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Skewis Wines 

click to enlarge JAMES KNIGHT
  • James Knight

It's a new year, and there are new wines to check out. If you like crowds and you've got a sturdy palate, events like this weekend's Winter Wineland offer an ideal opportunity to taste the maximum number of wines possible for one grand fee, an all-weekend pass to the wineries of the Russian River and Alexander valleys.

The Wine Road organization bills the event as "Wine, Art, Education." Designated drivers can enjoy all that, minus the wine—for a reduced fee. But if it's education that you're after, perhaps the best strategy is to seek out those small producers who don't normally hold tasting room hours or are off the well-trodden path.

Replacing Camellia Cellars, Skewis occupies the smallest of the tasting rooms in Healdsburg's Old Roma Station and is operated by husband-and-wife team Hank and Maggie Skewis. Since 1979, Hank Skewis (pictured) learned winemaking on-the-job, working 13 years at Lambert Bridge Winery and a harvest in Burgundy before launching his own brand in 1994, the same year he took on the job of winemaker at Mill Creek Vineyards. From doing the lab work to climbing barrels stacked five tiers high with a pitcher of wine in his teeth, Skewis pretty much ran the show by himself there, with only one intern during harvest—with whose novice stumblings he showed an infinite patience—slowing his manic pace only when all the fermentations were done to put on a tape of Neil Young's Harvest Moon while topping up barrels of new wine at the end of the evening. I know this because one year I was that intern.

Since 2004, Skewis Wines have been on their own, selling to area restaurants and a small but dedicated wine club. Pinot Noir is their sole wine, all of it made in a distinct house style that puts a premium on lightness, brightness and the more subtle charms of the varietal. For instance, the 2009 Russian River Valley, Montgomery Vineyard Pinot Noir ($45) has aromas of orange peel, cherry-cranberry and rhubarb, with a bright and refreshing finish; the 2009 RRV Lingenfelder Vineyard Pinot Noir ($45) has barrel aromas of bacon fat over faintly tantalizing red fruit with hints of earth and dry hay, and an astringent, yet buoyant mid-palate finish that I would want to term "Burgundian"—if I wanted to break another New Year's resolution.

Skewis Wines, 57 Front St., Healdsburg. Saturday–Sunday, 11am–4:30pm, and by appointment. $5 fee, refundable with purchase. 707.431.2160.

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