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by Fred McMillin
for November 25, 1998

 

The Skalli Saga


Prologue

In the early 1960's, North Africa accounted for two-thirds of the entire international wine trade. Algeria alone had one million acres of vines.

...World Atlas of Wine, Hugh Johnson


The Rest of the Story

Robert Skalli & son Robert -1964
Robert Skalli
with son Robert
Spring 1964
A leader of the Algerian charge at that time was Frenchman Francis Skalli. The photo shows Francis in the spring of 1964 talking to his son, Robert. They had plenty to talk about. Two decades earlier, at age 20, Francis had started his Algerian vineyards, that now totaled over 600,000 acres. Then came war in Algeria, chaos, a plane crash, and 39-year-old Francis was dead five months after that picture was taken.

As the grief and shock gradually subsided, Robert had to make some decisions. The Skalli had family Algerian vineyards as early as 1900. Robert's grandfather, Robert-Elie, had planted French varietals on that soil in the 1930's. With such a legacy, clearly Robert had to carry on...which he has done with gusto. Here are the highlights.

1979—The French government approved the production of varietal wines (named after the grape) in the Midi district along the Mediterranean coast of France.
c.1980- Skalli's Fortant becomes the first major brand of Midi varietals. They are fine values still priced well under $10.
1991—Robert quietly starts assembling a team to produce premium varietal wines from the choice zones in the Midi.
1998—Robert Skalli introduces his premium varietals to the U.S.A., including this mighty Merlot (below).


The Wine

Fortant Reserve F Merlot 1996 Fortant Reserve F Merlot (the 'F" is in rememberance of Francis)
Vineyards—Only parts of three vineyards made the cut to provide the grapes for this first 2,000-case vintage. Most of the vines are 12 years old.
Winemaking—Four enologists collaborated to bring out the best in the grapes from the different vineyards...15 months in French oak.
Rating—HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Contact—Marsha Palanci, NYC phone (212) 605-0370
Price—$25


Postscript

Some of the students in my Ft. Mason (S.F. City College) class said they thought they had heard the name Robert Skalli before. BINGO! He made a major investment in the Napa Valley in 1982. He bought the 400-acre Dollarhide Ranch/vineyard and at Rutherford built a 100,000-case winery, St. Supery.

 

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 

 

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