I’m sure most of you have heard of the legendary Opus One. As you may know, it is a partnership between Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe De Rothschild.
The venture started with a vintage in 1979 made jointly with Mouton Rothschild’s wine maker Lucienne Sionneau and Timothy Mondavi at the Mondavi winery. In 1981, a single case sold for $24,000 at the first Napa Valley wine auction, the highest price ever paid for California wine. Then in 1983, 50 acres were purchased for a joint venture winery in Oakville. It was decided the name should be Latin so it could be recognizable in both French and English and Opus, a musical term indicating the first masterwork of the composer, was chosen. The distinctive logo represents a likeness of the two men.
It took years before the splendid Opus One winery was built and opened which Baron Philippe did not live long enough to see.
It was the Baroness Philippine de Rothschild who took over for her father in the family wine business. Since then, Mr. Mondavi has also passed on but both families have continued the venture. Terry has naturally been to the vineyard and attended a special dinner last week. I will let her fill you in on both events.
Have you ever driven in the main road between Yountville and St. Helena in Napa and glanced over to see a beautiful building in the distance sitting alone and looking very regal? Well, that is Opus One. The World of the Wine industry basically only sees One Wine – Called Opus One even though there is another wine that is produced just to be consumed in the tasting room at the winery.
Last fall we took a set of customers out to see Opus One along with other special wineries. You walk into the main building and since we were VIP’s we had the opportunity to be escorted into the room that is all designed with French period furniture as the Ch. Mouton Rothschild home would be. All of the furniture, mirrors, etc have all been brought over from France and chosen by Madame Rothschild.
After starting with a delicious glass of 2006 Opus One we were escorted outside to see the vineyards and since it was close to harvest time and grapes were ripe, and looked perfectly ready to be picked. The gentleman that gave us the tour explained that they give each employee that works in the vineyard a number of rows that they are responsible for and their bonus is based on how well they take care of the vines, which makes the employees feel a part of the whole winemaking process.
We were escorted back inside to the wine facility that was spotless. It is just amazing that all of this fuss is for just one wine!! It makes you understand how special Opus One is and why the cost is what it is. They even have a computerized machine to check corks to make sure that there will be no bad ones going into a bottle of Opus One. They test one or two corks from each bag they receive. If one cork is bad they send the whole bag back to the cork producer.
We then saw their new computerized machine to sort grapes. After the hand sorting is done with all the employees when the grapes come in from the vineyards,
there is a new machine that is cutting edge and the grapes go through this machine that does another sorting and shows each grape that doesn’t make the cut and throws it aside. It collects the data and also prints out which grapes from which vineyard areas had the problems.
After seeing the winery we were taken to a room that over saw all the barrels that are single row storage on one level – not stacked. This is important and this is the way the French Rothschild do their cellaring. If you have barrels that are stacked you have a variance to a degree with temperature. This way all the barrels are at the same level and same termperature for aging.
Last Tuesday we had the opportunity to have dinner at The Lambs Club on West 44th Street next to the Chatwal Hotel with the winemaker of Opus One. The menu and the wines were fantastic. The short ribs were sensational and the conversation was lively.
Thanks Terry. I think visiting Opus One would be a must on my list for when I finally make it to Napa. Winemaker Michael Silacci is known as a perfectionist and his wines reap the benefit.