On the southeast slopes of Napa Valley’s Diamond Mountain, you find Checkerboard Vineyards. Farming four estate vineyards at different elevations on the mountain, their gorgeous wines are a textbook example of the subtle nuances that result in the smallest changes in exposure and soil composition.
It’s not only when you travel from one vineyard to another that you find these variations. In one of their estate vineyards, the Aurora Vineyard, Checkerboard’s winemaker Martha McClellan (an absolute legend, boasting a resume that includes Harlan, Sloane, and Merryvale) has found that the vineyard produces so many unique flavors that it is worth crafting two different wines from it.
The Aurora Vineyard is perched on a knoll at about 1200 feet, about halfway up Diamond Mountain. The vineyard’s positioning on the mountain ensures that it receives plenty of sunlight to burn off the morning fog that gathers on the mountain. Aurora’s soils are so varied that when you walk the vineyard, each row provides a different percussive sound when your boots hit the ground. In many rows, rich volcanic soils mingle with veins of basalt and loamy red clay mixed in. A few rows over, though, you find a crumbly gravelly mix of white volcanic ash and decomposed rhyolite.
All of these unique attributes are a single-vineyard winemaker’s dream scenario. Over 100 different picks are scheduled for this vineyard each harvest, allowing each block to reach its pinnacle of expression. Once fermentation is complete, Martha can spend the entire cellar élévage period using the different barrels as her spice cabinet, ensuring that each subtlety makes its way into the final blend for the Aurora Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a wine of finesse and elegance, exceptionally age-worthy, and with structure, balance, and energy.
After this blend is assembled, Martha returns to the barrels that were not included. In no way is their exclusion a reflection of the quality of the wine. The best way to think about this is that any of those barrels would have represented too much of one good thing, throwing off the balance of the blend. Within these remaining barrels, Martha finds her blend for Kings Row Cabernet Sauvignon, and it serves as a perfect complement to the Aurora Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Kings Row is designed to be enjoyed now with beautifully rounded tannins, a full rich mid-palette- and a long elegant finish. In its youth, it shows a remarkable intensity on the palate, with a rare purity of fruit with accompanying notes of graphite and unctuous cocoa.
These two unique expressions of Aurora Vineyard from Checkerboard Vineyards are two of the finest wines produced on Diamond Mountain and are well-deserving of a place in your cellar. Please click the link here and try some for yourself.