Opus One Winery
Oakville, Napa Valley, California
From Latin, Opus is defined as “any artistic work, especially one on a large scale”.
This story of the work known as Opus One Winery is both historic and unlikely. The collaboration between Baron Philippe de Rothschild, the aristocratic owner of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, a first growth of Bordeaux located in the village of Pauillac, and Robert Mondavi, a California vintner, and son of Italian immigrants, whose passionate desire was to have Napa Valley wines recognized as equal to the greatest wines of the world, would embark on a journey which would redefine and alter the course of fine wine production in the Napa Valley.
These two powerful and dynamic wine personalities shared the vision and decided to create a great Napa Valley red wine, as singular as the greatest estates of Bordeaux. After their first meeting in 1970, a friendship developed and by 1978 after a visit to Mouton by Mr. Mondavi, their partnership was agreed upon in a one hour meeting.
This benchmark red would utilize the great red grapes of Bordeaux, which already had proven themselves in the perfect environment of Napa Valley. The resulting wine, a combination of environmental conditions and the well-drained soils near the village of Oakville also benefitto from the wisdom and experience of both founders.
Mr. Mondavi had built his new winery in 1966 and throughout the 1970’s the reputation of the Robert Mondavi Winery and Napa Valley had set the stage for the next big raising of the bar. In 1973, after a 50 year effort, the Baron had successfully been able to have Mouton elevated to first growth status. In 1976 Napa Valley wines had achieved star power after a panel of French judges selected California wines over their French varietal counterparts. This blind tasting known as the “Judgement of Paris” redefined the course of Napa Valley wines and legitimized them globally.
Mr. Mondavi had been growing grapes in Oakville, possessed significant vineyard acreage and was excited that the partnership with Baron Philippe would continue to grow the reputation of the Napa Valley.
The French concept of terroir applies very well to the Oakville sub-district of Napa Valley. New roots would be established which would have two men from different cultures sharing the singular vision, to make one wine and the creation of Opus One, a wine dedicated to uncompromised quality, balance, complexity and power, an estate whose wine would transcend generations.
“Making great wine is easy; it’s just the first 100 years that are difficult” said Baron Philippe. I’m sure he would be pleased with the fall 2017 release of Opus One 2014, celebrating the 35th vintage of the wine. After a meticulous selection process during harvest, the grapes were fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged in new French oak barrels for 18 months. The finished blend is comprised of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot and 2% Malbec.
Opus One’s Estate Vineyard is made up of four parcels comprising approximately 170 acres, with a prime location of 100 acres lying within the historic To Kalon Vineyard, named by a late 19th century vintner named Hamilton Crabb. By 1891 he had more than 400 acres of exceptional vineyards properly planted and was a successful wine producer. Translated from the Greek, To Kalon means the highest beauty and it has more than 125 years of viticultural history. Some of the most sought after and costly Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are grown in this Napa Valley Grand Cru vineyard.
The first vintage in 1979 and every year that follows reflects the continued quest for the singular expression of the vineyard, its vintage personality. The unique combination of all the environmental factors influenceing the growth cycle of the vine from bud break in the spring to the harvest in the fall.
No two vintages are the same, but the consistent element of the vineyard site and the subtle conditions which significantly contribute to the vintage nuance and singularity. The wine is the ultimate expression of the place and the culmination of the efforts of the passionate and dedicated men and women who work in the vineyard and the winery as they help Mother Nature create what Robert Lewis Stephenson referred to as “bottled poetry”.
From 1979-1990 the wine was produced at the Robert Mondavi Winery and since 1991, upon completion of the Opus One Winery, all production has been at this iconic winery. Depending on the generosity of Mother Nature, no more than 25,000 cases are produced and is currently widely distributed in the United States and to more than ninety countries.
The highly acclaimed 2014 vintage Opus One will be available from fine wine retailers in time for holiday gift giving to a deserving wine lover. Best to call ahead and reserve your bottle. SRP $300.00
NEED TO KNOW
Robert Gerald Mondavi
1913 – 2008 California Vintner and Wine Visionary
Family Fruit Packing Enterprise C. Mondavi & Sons
1943 – 1965 Works in Family Business
1966 Establishes the Robert Mondavi Winery with sons Michael and Tim
Achieves from in producing varietal labeled wines which would be recognized as equal to the great wines of Europe
1970 Meets Baron Philippe de Rothschild
The decade successfully establishes a quality reputation of Napa Valley wines and the Robert Mondavi brand
1978 Visits Chateau Mouton Rothschild and meets with Baron Philippe. Opus One joint venture is born
2008 Until his death in Yountville, Mr. Mondavi’s life was centered on wine, arts, culture and philanthropy
Baron Philippe de Rothschild
1902 – 1988 Forward thinking visionary
Family Aristocratic French Banking Family
1922 Becomes director of the family estate Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Second Growth of Bordeaux
WWII years devastating to France
Joins Free French Forces under General Charles de Gaulle, rebuilds Chateau Mouton after the war
1970 Meets Robert Mondavi
1973 Chateau Mouton Rothschild reclassified to First Growth
1979 Joint venture partnership called Opus One announced. Recognition of Napa Valley wines
1988 Death in Paris after a life as a wine producer, sportsman, resistance fighter, filmmaker, artist and poet
PHOTOGRAPHY BY KELLY J. HUFF AND COURTESY OF MICHAEL VENEZIA