A winery I’ve long wanted to visit is Opus One. Elegant and iconic, the low-lying, pyramid-like structure on Napa’s Highway 29 is a beacon for those that know the wines, and those that don’t. American and French flags proudly wave side by side over the entrance, symbolizing the Mondavi and Rothschild partnership. I couldn’t wait to see inside.
The first thing I was impressed with was my guide. Nancy who led my tour was a seasoned expert. She welcomed our small group into a lounge for a taste of Overture, Opus’s second wine while explaining the winery’s history and the joint partnership between Robert Mondavi and Bordeaux’s Baron Philippe de Rothschild.
Opus One is not only a Bordeaux-style wine made in California; it combines the skills and ideas of the top vintners in the US and France at the time, incorporates the French style of blending wines, and uses Bordeaux varietals grown in California. In the 1970s, when Mondavi and Rothschild were making plans for a Napa wine, such a partnership was unheard of. Today the wines are highly sought after and a testament to the vision of both men. Neither wanted a French or English name, so Baron came up with a Latin name, Opus.
Today, with her father gone, Baroness Philippine looks after wine relationship on behalf of the Rothschilds along with the other owner, Constellation Brands. (Constellation purchased Robert Mondavi Winery in 2004).
Nancy started the first part of the tour in the vineyard explaining the meticulous care and attention the organic vines receive. When asked about biodynamic farming, she mentioned they are testing this currently in the To Kalon vineyard. At Opus every cluster of grapes is hand-harvested, placed in small picking boxes, and goes through a hand sorting process, as well as a scanner to sort by color.
Inside the winery we were escorted past the winemaker’s laboratory to the top floor where grapes are received during harvest. Like many of the top wineries I’ve seen, Opus One is designed on a gravity flow system. Many top wineries do this as it’s gentler on the grapes, protects the fruit flavors and produces better wines. Simply put, grapes come in at the top, go through sorting, and then travel to tanks underneath the sorting floor that are dedicated to each single lot of grapes. During the winemaking process the wine continues down the levels of the winery to the barrel aging stage in the cave (“Grand Chai”) on the bottom level.
Finally, we went down to the “Grand Chai” which houses 1,000 barrels in a semi circle. The room actually mirrors the shape of the courtyard above it so it is hard to get a sense of size. We then began our double tasting to compare two vintages of the wines.
With only 25,000 cases a year, and bottles pricing at $225, this is often one of the rare chances you have to try these wines by the glass. In the private tasting area you are not rushed and have plenty of time to sit and savor the wines. Nancy graciously said her goodbyes and led us to the terrace upstairs to finish our wines.
The Tasting Room at Opus One itself is a small lounge with outdoor patio. It is only open to those on the tours or with prior appointments. You’ll find friendly, welcoming staff who are happy to pour you another wine at $40 a glass or purchase any of the bottles.
A winery visit at Opus One is ideal for those that are aware of the winery’s unique story. I will mention though, that because Opus is a well-known Napa icon, you may find people on the tour, as I did, who had not tasted before and this was their first winery visit and first time to Napa. The guides are exceptional at explaining the details and can handle all questions. My tip here is to book well in advance as this is a popular winery and tours are limited to 12 guests, or 6 for the Double Vintage tour.
9/10 Overall visitor experience
10/10 Knowledge of guide
10/10 Architecture and design, landscaping
9/10 Other experiences: Tours & tasting
9/10 Knowledge of tasting room staff
9/10 Friendliness of staff
8/10 Signage & ease of access
10/10 Quality of the wines poured
Appointment required: Yes
Address: 7900 St. Helena Highway, Napa, CA 94562
Tasting room hours: N/A Appointment Only
Tasting fees and Experiences:
$60 per person – Estate Tour: Overview of Opus One’s history, aesthetics, vineyards and winemaking. This visit progresses through both the public and production spaces of the winery and ends with a taste of the current vintage of Opus One. (90 minutes)
$90 per person – Double Vintage Tour & Tasting: An abbreviated tour with senior staff culminating in a seated, guided tasting of two vintages of Opus One. (120 minutes)
$40 per glass – Tasting by the glass in the Partner’s Room between 10am and 4pm (appointment only).
Good for: Architectural fans, Bordeaux lovers, fine wine lovers
Wines produced: Opus One produces one wine under the label which is a blend of different grapes (Bordeaux blend). The 2009 vintage is a blend of 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot, 3% Merlot and 1% Malbec.
Opus One also produces a second wine under the “Overture” label which is slightly less structured than Opus One but is also a blend of the same varietals.
What’s nearby: Oakville Grocery, Robert Mondavi Winery, Cakebread Cellars, St Supéry Vineyards & Winery, Far Niente Winery.
District/Appellation: Oakville, Napa Valley
Contact for appointments: Due to limited space, please call 1-707-944-9442 to make a reservation for a tour.
Date of visit: July 20, 2013