Saturday, October 17, 2009

Oakville: Opus One Wineries

Being our first road trip to Napa, I had to do my homework when selecting wine tours. Our first choice was...

Opus One.

Opus One Wineries is a joint venture between Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild. Rothschild loved the working conditions in Napa Valley and thus sought out one of the best winemarker in the region, Robert Mondavi. Mondavi and Rothschild first met in Hawaii in the late 1970s where Rothschild proposed a joint venture. A plan was agreed upon in 25 minutes.

The first vintage was made at the Robert Mondavi Winery in 1979 but ten years later, ground breaking took place to create a new Opus One Winery which is located right across the street from the Mondavi Winery in Oakville off of Hwy 29.

So what makes this winery so unique? Well, there are several reasons.

1. This winery produces only ONE wine; a
proprietary Bordeaux-style blend.

2. When looking across the vineyard, you can tell there's a difference. The way the vines are planted, cultivated and tended to is far more meticulous than other vineyards.

3. The grapes are hand sorted and uses gravity to move the berries from the destemmer into the stainless steel fermenting tanks in the lower level.

4. Architecture and design: Simply stunning.

Check out the construction of this place. Absolutely beautiful. Baron Philippe, his daughter Philippine and Robert Mondavi selected Scott Johnson of Johnson, Fain & Pereira as the design architect of the Opus One Winery. The steel-looking terrace and pillars are not made of steel at all. It is actually made of redwood but painted to resemble steel. You will find redwood, stainless steel and limestone as key elements in the structure of the building.

Our tour began in the Salon, the most formal room in the winery. The space is furnished with French opulence and modern contemporary flair. The room brings together the sense of Old World meets New World.

The artwork on the right was created by Susan Roach Pate. She was hired to design the Opus One logo (shown below). The design consists of a sketched image of two profiles back to back, Robert Mondavi on the left and Baron Philippe de Rothschild on the right.

[image by Fine Wine House]

From the Salon, we were escorted to an area where the grapes are sorted and destemmed. Notice how clean the facility is.

On the lower level, gravity is used to bring the berries down into the stainless steel fermenting tanks. Each tank is used only once during the harvest and can be dedicated to one lot of grapes. Once the grapes are ready to be barreled, the tanks are raised and the free-run wine flows into new French oak barrels.

Next, we are escorted to the Tasting room and Grand Chai. 1,000 barrels are lined up side by side in the Grand Chai. This is where the wine is nurtured and aged in new French oak barrels.

Lastly, the Tasting. At the end of the tour we got to taste the 2005 Opus One Vintage. I'm not a red wine fan, but I actually enjoyed this wine. It was quite smooth and it didn't have the aftertaste that I usually dread with red wine. Marc enjoyed it as well since he likes red wine. We took our wine glasses upstairs to the rooftop terrace to enjoy the view. This is such a beautiful vineyard that everyone should experience once in their lives.

I know there has been mixed reviews about this place being pretentous, unfriendly, snooty, etc so here is my take. This place is NOT for everyone. If $30 for a tasting is expensive for you, then don't go. This winery is one-of-a-kind and I appreciate the history behind its legacy. I didn't find the staff snooty or unfriendly. I think I've gotten much more not-so-nice service at Neiman Marcus compared to this place. All and all, it was a great experience. Would I come here again? Sure! Probably to taste the current Vintage and purchase a bottle of Overture.

Ok, you can't leave this place without souvenirs. So here is what we got:

Opus One Overture - $60.00 and Opus One Etched Riedel Crystal Glass - $25.00

Opus One Overture is produced from classic Bordeaux varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Its aged for eighteen months in French oak barrels with an additional eighteen months in the bottle.

Things to know:
  • Tours and Tastings are by appointment only. $35 for the Tour (1 hour tour includes one tasting of the current Vintage). The first tour is at 10:30am but I believe there is another tour later in the afternoon. Need to call to confirm.
  • Visitors can purchase and taste Opus One in the Partners' Room from 10:00am to 4:00pm by appointment only. The cost per taste is $30.
  • To make an appointment, you must call 707-944-9442 during regular business hours from Monday-Friday. They will not take reservations on the weekends. You will be required to provide a credit card number to hold a reservation.
  • The gates of the winery will open at 10:00am.
  • The cost for a 750ml bottle of the current vintage is $160. Opus One Overture is only available at this winery for $60.00.
  • There are two Opus One Etched Crystal glasses available for purchase: Red Wine: $25.00 & Magnum: $39-$42 (I forgot the price, but I know it was expensive).
  • Best time to visit Opus One, in the Fall - Mid September, early October.
Opus One Wineries
7900 St. Helena Highway
Oakville, CA 94562



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