Checkerboard Cabs- I Tasted Them (and, wow)

I taste a lot of wine, and it’s rare that I am moved to spend valuable time writing about it non-professionally. But I’ve been turning these wines around in my head for a week now, since having a rare and unusual opportunity to taste them, and well, I can’t get them out of my head and looking forward to tasting them again someday. So here goes.

Checkerboard Vineyard, on Diamond Mountain, made by Martha McClellan (Sloan, L&M, and more). This is the most interesting, complex, and tremendously good “new” Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine I have had in recent memory. Probably the last time I got so charmed was tasting the delicious Seven Stones a year ago or so.

There has been a decade of investment, planning and building to build Checkerboard, and the devotion the owners have to the property is obvious. They LOVE that property, and it is a wild and beautiful spot for sure…bears, bobcats, mountain lions, etc.

First: the vineyard. A patchwork of plots, all at high elevation (2000 ft. being the highest I believe), with a terrifying amount of rocks and deep mineral deposits (and a fair amount of ryalite which I have noticed viticulturists and winemakers seem to get very excited about when they see it in a vineyard). It is everything you want from “mountain vines” up there, I would think…just a perfect setting, steep and rocky, great sun exposure, meticulous viticulture…planted and replanted until everything was just right, with the ultimate goal of coming up with the absolute best raw material to make wine from. Mostly Cabernet with a smattering of other Bordeaux varietals. At that elevation, near the top of the range, they are in the sun when the valley is foggy, and 10-15 degrees cooler when its blazing hot below. Good stuff.

The winery and caves are state of the art, small but highly functional, but with no expense spared on equipment, Taransaud oak fermenters, etc. Martha is obviously a meticulous vineyard tender, and a perfectionist winemaker, which is clear from the final product that I tasted. Michel Rolland consults, as well. Which brings me to…

The Wine: Heavy? No no. Fruit bomb? No sir. Tough-as-nails Diamond Mountain beast? No. It’s difficult coming up with something to compare it to…my mind goes more to Bordeaux than California, I think of things like Angelus…or Pichon Lalande…but anyway, it is sort of regal, with that hard-to-define but you-know-it-when-you-taste-it sense of finesse. I tasted 6 wines, 07-09, and all carry the thread: elegance, finesse, medium, almost airey, delicate mouthfeel, minerals, ultra-fine tannin and multiple levels of mostly blue fruits. It has absolutely incredible length, too, and this probably clinched the deal for me. It goes on and on and on. It doesn’t feel heavy, or manipulated, has no hard edges yet maintains a kind of kingly structure. Just great. Super small production, only 200 cases or less, I believe.

Here’s another thing. The “second” wine, King’s Row I believe it is called, is nearly as good as the first wine. In my experience, that’s pretty rare. Anyone who’s had a bottle of Carruades de Lafite knows it is generally crushingly disappointing…! I don’t know what these will end up costing, but I can’t say enough about the quality of the second wine. The star is clearly Checkerboard, but man I’d be happy as hell with King’s Row too. Both have that wonderful looooong, layered finish, elegant but rich feel, minerality.

Anyway, that’s it. I think the first release is the 2007, I see RP gave it a 95, which is pretty right on (personally I’d go higher, esp. on the 09 I tasted). Mailing list only… for a bit more info. Nice to see another kickass producer on Diamond Mountain.


Disclaimer: I am a retailer and may or may not at some time in the future get some of this wine to sell, although I seriously doubt it based on the production (200 cases) and the mailing list factor. Although I may get it in cellars we buy etc. Just sayin. This is more of a “heads-up” if you like great Napa cab.

i signed up for this list years ago, i’m and happy to hear people are getting a chance to taste it. any idea when they plan to actually sell some of this stuff?


I was wondering the same thing. I signed up a long time ago as well. Why do I have a feeling the wine will come out at $350 (arbitrary figure not at all based on fact) and immediately take me out of the market?

whats the pricing like?

I signed up years ago, anything over $200 and it goes in the garbage. Hoping it comes in at a reasonable price point so I can try it.

not sure on pricing. But I believe the release is imminent (couple months?)

Hysterical. I went to sign up and had done so a year and a half ago.

Agreed, Rico. One would THINK, and I’m emphasis THINK, that they would realize if it comes in even north of what Ovid and Seven Stones did a few years ago that people aren’t going to buy. If they pulled a Maybach in pricing, I’d definitely buy. But then again, where would they price their second wine? Personally I’d be pleased to see $150 and $90. But, highly unlikely.

Highly. And to your point, with a ST/RP 92/93 for the 2007 (according to wine access), this will not create the lemming hysteria needed to move prices higher than that. Stefan, I believe the first release is 2006. Still, as a huge Diamond Mountain fan, I am interested to try the wines.

Not sure about 2006 being first release - i mean, I have never seen it. I think 2007 is the upcoming, anyway. It will be interesting to see the price point on the second wine as it was just so damn good.

Just got an email. The 2007 Checkerboard Napa Valley Red Wine will be released in mid-March '11. No word on cost, allocation, production size, or really anything relevant.

I just got the email also. Anyone else taste it besides Stefan? I’m curious and prob be a buyer if it comes in under $150.00, but why do I get this feeling that it’ll be well north of $200.00, especially with all the talk of no expense was spared in making this wine…

To quote The Shawshank Redemption, I think $150 is “just a shitty pipe dream.” While that price point makes logical sense, I have a horrible feeling it’s going to fall in the L&M range. And at that point, who buys this unknown entity? Not a rhetorical question either. I’m curious as to who really does buy?

I’ll add I have nooooo evidence or concrete reason for this feeling. But based on them producing a second wine, I think at best we are looking at prices around the Scarecrow/M. Etian (or whatever it’s called) range.

Thanks for the heads up. I just joined the mailing list.

I actually got a little postcard in the mail from them thanking me for signing up and confirming my spot on the list. Anxious to see the pricing.

I got the card and an email today saying:

"Thank you most sincerely for your continued interest in Checkerboard and for joining our mailing list.

We are very proud to introduce our Checkerboard wines to you. We will be releasing our 2007 Checkerboard Napa Valley Red Wine in mid March, 2011. Our inaugural release is a passionate commitment to the earth and to the fine art of winemaking.

An invitation to purchase our wine will be mailed to you at that time. We again thank you for your interest in Checkerboard. "

mid march. price?

We should start a pool on the over/under on this wine. I’ll start it up… $250

I am game.

I say $125.

I could rationalize why but I wont

I say $175.00 per bottle with forced 3 pack order.

Hmmm, sounds awfully familiar from about two or three years ago.

Gene, hope your guess is far closer than mine.

+2. But I’m hopeful for less than $150 with the forced 3 pack. $175.00 would make me think hard about this allocation. That’s Schrader pricing with no history to back it up.