Naming a winery Opus One sets some seriously high expectations. A musical term that comes from the Latin oper, Opus One is attributed to a composition generally considered to be a composer’s first masterpiece.
Launched in 1979, when interest in Napa winemaking was still nascent, Opus One is an ambitious joint venture between two of the world’s most esteemed winemaking figures. It achieved near-overnight critical acclaim, matching the lofty aspirations of its name.
Nearly 40 years on, Opus One remains one of the most sought-after bottlings in Napa Valley. Here are 10 things you need to know about the prestigious winery.
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Opus One has an impressive pedigree.
Opus One started as a New World-Old World partnership between Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Château Mouton Rothschild (Bordeaux), and Robert Mondavi, famed for his eponymous Napa winery.
The venture was first suggested by the Baron during a 1970 meeting between the pair in Hawaii, and its fate was sealed when Mondavi visited Rothschild in Bordeaux in 1978.
Château Mouton Rothschild’s winemaker, Lucien Sionneau, and Robert Mondavi’s son Timothy made the first joint vintage at the Robert Mondavi Winery in 1979. The Opus One project then officially debuted in 1980.
It may have always have been a masterpiece, but it was originally called something else.
The very first vintages of Opus One were labeled Napamédoc, a nod to the wines’ Franco-American heritage. It wasn’t until the 1982 vintage that the brand adopted the name Opus One.
Opus One set early Napa Valley auction records.
At the inaugural Napa Valley Wine Auction in 1981, a 12-bottle case of Opus One sold for $24,000. While that pales in comparison to modern-day auction prices, it was unheard of at the time, especially for a California-made wine.
Opus One produces just two wines.
The flagship Opus One red wine is a Cabernet-dominant Bordeaux blend, which also contains smaller quantities of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Merlot.
Opus One’s second and only other wine, Overture, is made with the fruit that doesn’t quite make the Opus One grade. Its name is another musical reference, meaning an orchestral piece at the beginning of a composition.
Part of the blend comes from Napa’s legendary To Kalon vineyard.
The To Kalon vineyard is jointly owned by a number of famed Napa producers. It is generally regarded as the best winemaking land Napa has to offer. In 1981, Mondavi sold part of his share of the vineyard to the newly launched Opus One venture, providing high-quality grapes that serve as the backbone of the blend.
Opus One is extremely popular.
According to Wine-Searcher data, Opus One is the most-searched-for American-made wine in its database. It ranks seventh, meanwhile, among the most-searched-for wines worldwide.
Opus One takes technology and precision to a whole new level.
At Opus One’s state-of-the-art facility, the winemaking team goes to painstaking lengths to maintain quality. Grapes are hand-harvested in individual lots — nothing too extreme about that — but, from there, each lot is sorted and fermented separately, requiring over three dozen giant steel fermentation tanks.
Rather than being sorted by hand, harvested grapes are processed by a custom-made optical sorter, which uses cameras to analyze the size, shape, and color of every grape.
Finally, Opus One uses 14 different cooperages to provide over 1,000 new oak barrels annually. Tastings take place in a high-tech lab by chief winemaker Michael Silacci before the final blend is decided upon.
There is such a thing as a $350 bargain.
All that technology comes with a hefty price tag. The current Opus One vintage (2015) retails on its website for $350. Yet, compared to other “cult” Napa wines, this price is a relative bargain.
On Wine-Searcher.com, Screaming Eagle’s Cabernet Sauvignon has an average price listing of $3,619. Harlan Estate’s Bordeaux Blend, meanwhile, is listed at $1,059. In fact, Opus One doesn’t even register in the top 25 most-expensive Napa wines.
It’s still exclusive, though.
While it might be an “affordable” Napa wine, that doesn’t mean you can stock your cellar full of Opus One. The winery limits each buyer to just six individual bottles or four six-bottle cases.
Constellation Brands now owns 50 percent of Opus One.
In 2004, Mondavi sold his eponymous label — which included his 50 percent share in Opus One — to Constellation Brands for $1.36 billion. Today, Opus One is jointly and equally owned by Baron Philippe de Rothschild S.A. and Constellation Brands.