Reminder: This month’s Virtual Tasting takes place Wednesday the 25th at 7-8pm Pacific Time. Read more about it here.

Skylite Cellars is located a short distance from downtown Walla Walla, just off Highway 12. The winery is one of a number to suddenly find itself off the beaten path when the highway moved in 2010.

Cheryl Hodgins and her family first became interested in wine in 1990 when they fell in love with the wines of Walla Walla Vintners. In 1999 the family decided to go in with a group of investors in Ash Hollow Vineyard. A year later, Hodgins’ father planted a small “hobby” vineyard.

The winery itself started almost organically. Hodgins says, “My father and husband, Tom, wanted to bottle ‘family use’ wines from the new little vineyard. But we were bitten by the bug.” For Tom starting the winery was “an investment,” Hodgins says. “Did we ever learn the hard way,” she adds wryly.

The family soon learned that winemaking wasn’t easy. “Cecil Zerba, a childhood friend, and Robert Smasne, young genius, led Tom and I by the hand as we worked our way out of a very bad start!” she says. Robert Smasne has continued to make the wines since the 2004 vintage.

Skylite Cellars gets its name from the family’s art and object gallery in downtown Walla Walla. The family purchased the historic building and subsequently discovered 100-year-old skylights during renovation. Skylite Gallery was born. As the vineyard and winery came on-line, both were given the Skylite name. “There are no sky lights in the cellar, but that did not influence Tom and Dad one little bit,” Hodgins says.

Skylite gets its fruit from Riverrock, Skylite, Upland, Minnick, BellaTerra, and Pepper Bridge vineyards. In terms of style Hodgins says, “(It’s) the style of wine we prefer to put on our table.” She adds with an ever-present sense of humor, “It made sense to craft wines that our friends and family could enjoy for years to come. After all, they may have been our only customers!”

From the beginning, the family has looked to keep the winery small. In addition to maintaining quality, there were practical reasons as well. “We both already had two full-time jobs!” Hodgins says of her and her husband (who works in radio). The winery produces approximately 2,000 cases annually.

Why add another ball to juggle? “Nothing compares to seeing a smile of approval when wine lovers try our nectar,” Hodgins says.

Skylite Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2007 $28
Rating: + (Good) Extremely dark in color. Abundant cocoa powder, jalapeno pepper, herbal notes, coconut shavings, vanilla, and dark cherries. The palate is rich, thick, and tart with abundant vanilla and coconut notes on the finish. Aged in 100% new American oak. 14.0% alcohol. 13.9% alcohol. Sample provided by winery.

Skylite Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Walla Walla Valley 2007 $47
Rating: +/* (Good/Excellent) Extremely dark in color. Cocoa, licorice, ground cherries, shaved coconut, and black tea on a moderately aromatic wine that also shows light pickling spice. The palate is rich and tart with a lingering finish full of coconut and medicine cabinet notes. 13.5% alcohol. 13.9% alcohol. Sample provided by winery.

Skylite Cellars Reserve Red Wine Columbia Valley 2007 $47
Rating: + (Good) Stains the glass. A toasty top note along with abundant peppercorns, green notes, coconut, and cocoa. Palate is tart and dry with lingering coconut flavors. 51% Malbec, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Carmenere. 13.9% alcohol. 13.9% alcohol. Sample provided by winery.

Skylite Cellars Syrah Columbia Valley 2006 $28
Rating: ./+ (Decent/Good) Abundant char, roasted nuts, and chocolate notes along with cherries, pink peppercorn, and light toasted marshmallow. Palate shows abundant pink peppercorn and spice. 100% Syrah (58% Minnick Hills, 42% Ash Hollow). 13.9% alcohol. Sample provided by winery.