Skandis Fine Wine, sometimes referred to as “nectar of the gods”

A Kalamazoo wine distributor’s mission to save a great grape


A Kalamazoo wine distributor's mission to save a great grape


Since 2001, Christine Skandis, the businesswoman behind Skandis Fine Wine, sometimes referred to as “nectar of the gods,” has been bringing a grape that is thousands of years old down the mountain to satisfy the tastes of mortals. After all, why should only ancient gods enjoy such fine wines?
She founded Skandis Fine Wines, LLC, an importer and distributor of fine wines, to help keep alive heirloom grapes that may otherwise have turned to vineyard dust by now. Generally unknown and grown in Italy in limited quantities, these delicate grape varietals such as Erbaluce, Aglianico, Negroamaro, Nero di Troia, Falanghina, Malvasia, Bombino, to name a few, risk being torn out of the vineyards and replaced by better known and therefore faster-selling grapes, such as Chardonnay and Cabernet, to sustain the economic need of the small communities that grow them.
“I started Skandis Fine Wines to preserve these 2,000-year-old heirloom grapes,” says Skandis. A member of the Tasters Guild, a nationwide society of food and wine enthusiasts, she was frustrated “that everyone was always serving the same old wines. I wanted to educate people about a different kind of wine.”
To find the unusual rather than the ordinary, Skandis took a trip to Italy, the first of many, and visited the regions of Piedmont, Puglia, and Trentino. She found more than heirloom grapes there–she found communities that welcomed her with open arms.
“I spend a week, and I harvest grapes along with everyone else,” says Skandis. “I go to Italy because I need to walk this soil, I need to see these people. People carry wicker baskets on their backs for the grapes, and everyone in the community picks the grapes. They take you under their wing and take you home like family.”
With her now biannual return trips, Skandis is welcomed into the homes of the residents. They bring their newborn children to her to show them off, she says, and with much the same loving care, they may bring her a sample of grapevines, hundreds of years old, for her inspection and admiration.
The main grape found in Skandis’ wine portfolio, Erbaluce, is quickly being recognized as one of the most premier wine grapes in the world. Found in the Piedmont region, North of Torino, Italy, this grape was once enjoyed by Julius Caesar.
“Light and crisp with a masterful blend of citrus and floral aromas, Erbaluce is a favorite at tastings,” says Skandis with obvious pride.
Skandis knows her wines. She was inducted into the Dionysian Society International in 2006, the world’s oldest wine society, making her one of only six female members in the world. “It’s very unique,” she says, “sitting in a boardroom with all these businessmen, the sellers …” She smiles, shrugs, undeterred from her grape mission.
Educating the wine taster is her mission, and the wine taster is–you. Not just the expert, the connoisseur, but anyone and everyone. Skandis Fine Wines run about $30 to $45 per bottle, so a bottle may not be for every evening, but surely when family and friends gather for a special occasion.
“Like a beautiful sunset, a fine wine is better shared,” Skandis says. “People can be intimidated about ordering from a wine list when they don’t know a wine. If they’re not familiar with it, or they don’t know how to pronounce it, they won’t try it.”
Skandis gave that reluctance a great deal of thought. To each wine label, she has added a phonetic pronunciation of the wine’s name. She added a couple short sentences about the flavors of the wine and its history. She is preparing icons that can be scanned on the label that enable the wine drinker to visit a website and learn more.
“I also realized that people are more comfortable trying new wines at home,” Skandis says. Going for the comfort, she started organizing home wine tastings. In their own nesting ground and among friends, people enjoy trying Skandis Fine Wines while listening to Skandis, or the “wine guru” as some have come to call her, talk about the history of each wine, telling the story behind the grapes, answering questions, offering suggestions about pairings with food.
“Have an adventure!” Skandis raises a glass. “Open your mind, experience these flavors! Life is about taking a journey.” And her wines, she says, is one way of doing just that. As people sip and discuss and sample, Skandis talks about what it takes to create her wines. Not just the ancient grape adored by ancient gods, but the arid climate of the vineyards, the salt of the sea nearby, the effects of the volcano in the region, the exact combinations of soils.
“I watched a taster swirl his wine in his glass at a tasting, and he said it brought him back to his childhood.” That’s what it is all about, Skandis says, the total experience. Tastings breed familiarity, familiarity creates the bond, and from that bond is born a new favorite. Hand that taster a wine list in a restaurant, and the Skandis wine pops out.
Taking the wine tasting one step further, Skandis currently works with area chefs and a culinary school to teach how to pair wines with food, one complementing the other, and she is finishing up the first of many books she intends to write about wine. More wine tastings are planned for groups of alumni at various universities, with a recent such gathering at Yale University.
In the comfort of her own home, the same residence in the South Street Historic District of Kalamazoo where William Upjohn, founder of the Upjohn Pharmaceutical Company, lived with his family in 1905, Skandis only smiles when asked to choose a favorite wine. She relents only so far as to say that among her “children,” her first is the Erbaluce, that most delicate heirloom grape appreciated by gods and mortals both.
To prove the point that all her children are equal favorites, a chorus of cheery barks resound as Skandis crosses the room and is greeted by seven white Bichon Frisé pups. Each one is named for a Skandis wine: Princess Erbaluce, Princess Passito, Princess Bianca, Princess Bombino, Prince Dolcetto, Prince Barolo and Je T’aime. They surround Skandis, and she kneels to cuddle them, one by one and not missing any. Their fluffy images appear on some of the wine labels.
“Ten percent of the proceeds of my wines are donated to local animal shelters,” she says among Bichon Frisé licks and yips. If a wine is sold in New York, for instance, the proceeds will go to the animal shelter there.
And so, not only are the ancient gods satisfied, along with mere mortals, but their divine pups, too.
Zinta Aistars is creative director for Z Word, LLC, and editor of the literary magazine, The Smoking Poet. She lives on a farm in Hopkins.  
Photos by Erik Holladay.

Skandis Heirloom Wines at The Yale Club of New York City

Experience the Nectar of the Gods!

Skandis Fine Wines traveled from the sun drenched landscapes of Italy into glasses at the Yale Club’s. Yale Club members experienced rare, heirloom grape varietals facing extinction, while learning their history from the wine guru herself, importer and distributor Christine Skandis. Among her recognition, Skandis was inducted into the Dionysian Society International in 2006, the world’s oldest wine society, making her one of only six female members in the world to date.

University Club Article_with photo & Hampton Terrace_CPark

“Rare Grapes Grow Unique Wine Business For Local Resident “

Saugatuck Local Observer, November 30, 2005

Rare Grapes Grow Unique Wine Business For Local Resident

Mary Milewski


Importer Christine Skandis takes a different approach to wine. The Saugatuck resident and owner of Skandis Fine Wines focuses on rare, unique, indigenous grape varietals.

“I’ve been working with a remote village in the mountains of Piedmont, Italy , helping them to become compliant with our federal and state obligations,” said Skandis, who started her business five years ago. “I visited them in Italy and returned with exclusivity for all of the U.S. for importing from that village area.”

The grapes Skandis secured exclusive rights to import into the United States are indeed rare and unique – perfect for the types of wines she specializes in.

“They’re grown in such limited quantities,” she said. “My goal is to help save grape varietals that are grown in such limited quantities and are very unknown to most people – otherwise they would be ripped out and replaced with Chardonnay grapes or something more common.”

Skandis Fine Wines’ primary market is high-end restaurants. “We’re selling the erbaluces and the borolo blends,” she said. “And we’re in the process of adding several additional portfolios from Italy.”

Skandis carries feature wines, including a special erbaluce, which is made with a white grape.

“It is an ancient Roman grape that has gone relatively unnoticed for hundreds of years,” Skandis said. “With the production of these white wines, the Italian government has identified this grape as an asset, only grown in the very northern portion of Italy in the Swiss Alps.”

The grape used for her erbaluce wines, she said, has a special designation that requires specific factors for producing a perfect grape for this type of wine. The grapes are ranted and designated for their type, plus soil quality, sun and more. But, these grapes are unique, Skandis said, as the region of her exclusivity is the only place in the world that they grow with the designation to produce the wine.

Skandis’ in-depth knowledge of grapes, growing conditions and the production of fine wines is evident.

“I have a passion for wines,” she said. “I didn’t realize at the time we started that it would require so much energy and time.”

Her time invested in studying grapes and wine production has made Skandis an authority in a field that is gaining popularity nationwide.

“Sideways, the movie, worked to open peoples eyes to different varieties of wines,” she said. “It had a very positive impact on people trying something different and unique.”

Skandis is a frequent host of fine wine tasting events. She also provides seminars and appears at shows nationwide.

“We did a tasting at a Grand Rapids Wine festival and we had the most atypical wines and people were so enchanted with the stories of our wines as well as the unique and interesting taste of our wines,” she said.

Skandis is working to introduce and market her wine because it is made from a relatively unknown grape. Her work involves a great deal of traveling across the country to show the wine, including a recent show in New York City, where her product gained special attention.

“I’ve been doing feature wine dinners, where the chef pairs foods with the wine and we present the wine portfolio,” she said. “We’ve also been doing private wine tastings, working with boards, business meetings, showers and coordinating with local restaurants. In our tastings we take groups on culinary journeys through Italy. Once people try these wines, they really love them. They hear about the mountains, castles, wine routes through Italy and more.”

Skandis Fine Wines will be featured at a tasting event at Till Midnight in Holland on Jan. 12 and Feb. 2, as well as at Via Maria restaurant on Jan. 19. Local restaurants that carry Skandis Fine Wines include Blue Moon, Chaps and Everyday People Café in Douglas; Phil’s and Marro’s in Saugatuck; Till Midnight, Via Maria, Piper, Butch’s Dry Dock and Pereddies in Holland.

“I’m very passionate about saving a grape varietal that could otherwise be lost to the world,” Skandis said. “I enjoy enlightening people to the new, unique areas of wine.”

Contact Skandis Fine Wines for information on their products, shows and tasting events at or (269) 998-9300.