When you think of the finest wines in Napa Valley, Opus One Wine undoubtedly comes to mind. This Napa Valley icon represents the perfect blend of tradition and innovation, creating a symphony in a bottle. The founders’ vision was to create a singular wine in the heart of Napa Valley but even they would be surprised what Opus One means to Napa Valley wine today.
In this article, we’ll explore the rich history, exquisite winemaking process, and opulent experience that has made Opus One a legendary luxury wine now over 40 years old.
History of Opus One
Robert Mondavi, an American winemaking legend, and Baron Philippe de Rothschild, the owner of the prestigious Château Mouton Rothschild in France, were united by a passion for excellence and a desire to elevate California’s wine reputation on the global stage.
De Rothschild’s involvement added instant credibility to this joint venture throughout the wine industry.
The Joint Venture
During the early 1970s, Robert Mondavi (Robert Mondavi Winery) and Baron Philippe de Rothschild met at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the big island of Hawaii. It was during this meeting that they came up with the idea of producing a refined wine that blended the finest viticultural practices of California with the traditional expertise of Bordeaux winemaking.
Their goal was to create a Napa Valley wine that could rival the best European wines, and they were confident that this winery venture would make it a reality.
In an effort to blend old-world and new-world wine styles into “one grand opus”, Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild collaborated on a joint venture that they later named Opus One.
Although the plans for the winery had been in the works since the early 1970s, the partnership was officially announced in 1980.
To establish the joint venture, Mondavi sold 35 acres from his To Kalon Vineyard in the Oakville AVA in 1980 to the new project. This land and its cabernet sauvignon would eventually serve as the foundation for the Opus One winery estate where they still source their fruit forty years later.
After years of tireless preparation, Opus One Winery became official in 1979 and began producing its first vintage which was made at the nearby Robert Mondavi Winery. In 1989 the winery on the Opus One property was finished so every vintage since then has been made at the current property.
The winery’s first release, the 1979 Opus One, was highly acclaimed and helped to establish the winery as one of the top producers of premium wine in California.
The First Vintage
The inaugural vintage of Opus One, the 1979 vintage, was released in 1984 along with the 1980 vintage, marking the beginning of a remarkable journey that would redefine luxury wine and produce a wine that transcends generations.
The Winemaking Process
Opus One sources its grapes from over 100 acres of meticulously cultivated estate vineyards, located in the western portion of Napa Valley’s Oakville AVA.
The four parcels that contribute fruit for Opus One wine include two parcels totaling 100 acres within the world-famous To Kalon vineyard and the Ballestra and River parcels, two parcels totaling another 70 acres.
Grapes and Blending
A blend of classic Bordeaux varietals, Opus One is predominantly composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, with smaller portions of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. Each vintage is carefully crafted to reflect the unique character of the growing season and expresses the technical acumen of the winemaker and his team.
During the harvest season, Opus One ensures that the fruit is well taken care of by implementing various precautions, such as delicate hand harvesting and other traditional approaches including native yeast ferments which are a subtle celebration of each harvest.
The winemaking team, led by winemaker Michael Silacci, does its best to continue to improve the winegrowing process by delicately weaving modern techniques and traditional approaches while contributing the essential human element that makes Opus One a special wine.
The Aging Process
Following the art of French winemaking, a sign of De Rothschild’s involvement, Opus One wines are aged in French oak barrels for 18 months, followed by an additional 15 months in the bottle before release. This extended aging period allows the wine to develop its signature elegance and complexity and forms the wine’s balance.
There is no question that modern techniques benefit the wine but it is Opus One’s consistent dedication to quality and innovation in winemaking that’s an ongoing testament to the vision and collaboration of its founders.
The Opus One Experience
The Opus One estate is a testament to the founders’ commitment to quality and attention to detail. The architectural masterpiece designed by Scott Johnson houses the winery, tasting rooms, and private event spaces, all surrounded by stunning landscapes and its signature open space.
Visitors to Opus One can indulge in their choice of three unforgettable tasting experiences where they can enjoy the current vintage of Opus One Wine, library vintages, and Opus One’s highly acclaimed second label called Overture.
Courtyard Tasting – $100
The first tasting experience, called the courtyard tasting, offers you the opportunity to sit in the limestone courtyard and enjoy a 60-minute private tasting of two vintages of Opus One and one glass of its second label Overture.
Opus One Experience – $200
This elevated tasting in the beautiful Partners’ Room offers a 90-minute, hosted, tasting experience. Not only do you get to taste two library vintages of Opus One and the current vintage, but you are also invited to a tour of the winery and facilities. This tasting experience also includes small bites to pair with the wines.
Art of the Table Experience – $750
The third tasting experience offered at Opus One winery is called the “Art of the Table. This immersive experience begins with a tour of the facilities, the grounds, and the garden and ends with a multi-course food and wine pairing.
Opus One is widely recognized as one of the most prestigious and highest-rated wines in the world. Since its first vintage in 1979, Opus One has consistently earned critical acclaim for its exceptional quality, complexity, and aging potential.
Year after year, Opus One’s wines receive high scores from respected wine critics and publications, including Wine Spectator, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, and James Suckling.
The winery’s commitment to producing fine wine of the highest caliber is reflected in the meticulous attention to detail that goes into every step of the winemaking process, from the selection of the finest grapes to the careful blending of the wine.
With its impeccable track record of excellence, Opus One remains a top choice for wine connoisseurs and collectors around the globe.
In conclusion, Opus One is a true symphony in a bottle, representing the perfect blend of art, science, and luxury. Their passion for fine wine and the craft of winemaking is truly inspiring. Next time you are looking for a truly special wine, grab your best red wine glass and pour yourself a splash of Opus One.
I hope this article has given you a deeper appreciation for Opus One and its remarkable legacy. If you want to learn more about the world of fine wine and hear in-depth interviews with some of the most influential people in the wine industry, be sure to tune in to the Obsessed with Wine podcast.
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What is Opus One Wine?
Opus One is a Bordeaux-style blend produced in Napa Valley, California, using five grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec.
Who created Opus One?
Opus One was a wine venture created in 1979 by two wine legends, Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild.
Why is Opus One so expensive?
Opus’s limited production (approximately 25,000 cases per vintage), high quality, and collectible value make it a premium and exclusive fine wine.
How long can you age Opus One Wine?
Opus One wines can age for several decades, developing complexity, depth, and softness over time. Just make sure it is stored in optimal conditions.
What is the Opus One Experience in Napa Valley?
The Opus One Experience in Napa Valley is a wine tasting and tour experience that allows visitors to immerse themselves in the world of Opus One, from the vineyard to the cellar to the tasting room.
Who was Baron Philippe de Rothschild?
Baron Rothschild was a prominent French winegrower, winemaker, and a member of the Rothschild banking family. He was born on April 13, 1902, in Paris, France, and inherited the vineyard and château in Pauillac, Bordeaux, from his father when he was just 20 years old.
Philippe de Rothschild is widely known for his innovative approach to winemaking and his leadership in promoting French wines on the international stage.
Rothschild passed away on January 20, 1988, in Pauillac, France, but his legacy in the world of wine continues to this day.
Who owns Opus One Winery Now?
When Robert Mondavi sold his winery in 2004, 50% of Opus One was sold to beverage giant Constellation Brands while the other 50% remains the property of the Rothschilds.