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When is a Winery Like Lady Mary?

When is a Winery Like Lady Mary?

Stefan Pinto's journey through Napa's off-the-beaten-path wineries continues with Checkerboard, a small, upscale winery hidden away among the redwoods.

Hello my favorite drunks! Welcome back. Our second trip along the red, brick road on this off-the-beaten-path winery expedition is to Checkerboard Winery!

But before we actually arrive at Checkerboard we need to talk about the road leading up to Checkerboard. Literally.

Um… OMG! The scenery along the road is gorgeous. I posted a pic on my Instagram (said pic may show up in this article, but we must've been having way too much fun at our first winery, as my editor didn't use all of the pics I submitted for that article. Sigh. Hey, if you wanna see more pics from our first winery, just message me on Twitter or Insta or FB).

The Road to Checkerboard
Ok, back on path: first, Checkerboard isn't easy to get to. And this makes it all the more marvelous and exciting. You see, Checkerboard is an "exclusive winery." WTH does that mean?!

Checkerboard’s beauty lies in its subtlety. It’s like the quiet winery at a gregarious party. When it does speak, you want to keep this treasure all to yourself (or at least tell your friends you met!). You know the type I mean: you’re at a party, and everyone seems to know everyone. Everyone is busy talking with everyone (else). They know so and so — they and so and so go way, way back. Snooze, right? But hold up. Look over there! Who. Is. That?! Quietly standing alone, looking at the view, taking it all in, is this one, particular person. Poised. Polished. Discerning. Amazing. It’s like running into Lady Mary! And who wouldn’t just love running into Her Ladyship at a party?!

“If you’re going to talk nonsense, I have better things to do” - Lady Mary.

Return to America. Located just outside the town of Calistoga in Napa County, the road towards Checkerboard is winding. It veers through a luxuriant, lush, green, verdant forest of redwoods. And, as we marveled at the surr—“IN 800 FEET YOU WILL ARRIVE AT YOUR DESTINATION!” Sigh… car navigations and their knack for interrupting conversations.

Checkerboard winery itself, as I said, is subtle, and for a reason: so as not to impact the quiet and natural surroundings. In fact, Checkerboard’s environment is so peaceful, last year, a lost, lowly cow wandered onto the property—and decided to stay. No one claimed her. And much to my chagrin, no one ate her. That was a joke.

It isn’t often that one travels with people they meet on Facebook, but there I was, with the couple I met on Facebook, to meet Beth, a woman I’ve never met, at a prestigious winery in the heart of Napa Valley. Everyone: Please behave.

So, in proper form, we toured Checkerboard’s estate. Through the fermentation room, we made our way to the cedar-clad building that houses the tasting room. This was our second tour/tasting on my Napa Valley Winery Expedition. No, I wasn’t tipsy. But I was hungry.

The trick to wine tasting so as to circumvent inebriation, is to limit your pours. Meaning, you don’t have to drink the entire pour that is served. The point is to taste the wine, not to get drunk on the wine before reaching the final wine you are to taste.

Now, come along. Inside the fermentation room are eight hand-built Taransaud French Oak upright casks (barrels), each accommodating one harvest pick. It is through the fermentation room that we enter Checkerboard’s wine cave.

Used to both age the wine and to make the wine, wine caves are integral to any winery. Wine caves provide the ideal humidity and temperature, which is essential to the storage and aging of wine.

Checkerboard’s wine cave is 600-feet long and, owed to the fir tree shading, maintains a constant 58.5-degree temperature year round. Unlike many of the wineries I visited, the barrels in Checkerboard’s wine caves are just one height: one barrel. This allows easier access. It was in Checkerboard’s wine cave that I smelled my first aging wine directly from the barrel! I want my apartment to smell like this. You have to smell it to get it.

Are they ever going to drink any wine? I’m getting to it! Jeez! Lushes.

The driving force at Checkerboard is to preserve the beauty of the surroundings and to impact that natural beauty as little as possible. The winery at Checkerboard is a small building reflecting a 'four-poster’ barn style found in early New England.

With its tall cupola to watch over the surrounding vineyards, and big windows to enjoy the beautiful views, Checkerboard’s tasting room is on the second floor of the winery itself. And it is here, inside the cupola, that simplicity reigns supreme.

2011 Kings Row - A Jammy Finesse
Eight chairs, a table, ten wine glasses—and wine. Checkerboard is an exclusive winery and their wines are only available through their wine club, which, incidentally, now has a waiting list. Beth served us the late harvest 2011 Checkerboard Kings Row, and a 2011 and 2012 Checkerboard Aurora Vineyard, three varieties. Spicy. Ripe. Fruity. No. I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about the wines.

There’s a saying that age is just a number. It’s totally irrelevant unless, of course, you happen to be a bottle of wine, and when it comes to a warm, dry growing season, wines—especially late harvest wines—will reflect optimum ripeness. A wine’s finish is what lingers after you swallow, and due to this harvest’s longer barrel aging, the 2011 Checkerboard Aurora Vineyard is intensified far into the finish for a smooth, balanced finale.

Drink it. Keep it. Either way, you’ll love it.

Here’s a link to Checkerboard’s website.

Let’s Get Loud
Come back next week when I’ll take you to a very, very, very different kind of winery. It’s a five-act theater, with a game room, a bubble room, a crystal palace… it even has a literal red room with velvet-ensconced, custom-made red plush sofas. It’s Raymond and you’re gonna wanna stick around.

About the author
Stefan Pinto used to be overweight. After losing 60lbs, he was discovered by a model scout in a Miami Whole Foods while buying a turkey wrap. In 2007, he spent one week on expedition with National Geographic in Oaxaca, Mexico. Follow him on Facebook or on Instagram.

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