Opus One produces “ultra premium” wines focusing on a single wine each year. However, they also create a second much lesser known and promoted label called Overture. Their first vintage was released in 1979. For several years the wine was called napanamedoc until Opus One was ultimately decided as an appropriate name reflecting the significant efforts and details that go into creating the wine each year.
The physical winery and grounds are located in Oakville on the other side of Highway 29 from its “sister” winery, Robert Mondavi.
This winery was founded by Baron Philippe de Rothschild of France and Robert Mondavi. The Baron passed away in 1988 prior to the completion of Opus’s winery facility (in the early years Opus One was made at Robert Mondavi Winery). The Rothschild family traces their wine heritage back to 1853 when they purchased an existing chateau and renamed it to what is now the iconic Château Mouton Rothschild. Part of the Rothschild family also owns the equally iconic Château Lafite Rothschild. Today the Rothschild family owns numerous wine estates in Europe as well as in North and South America, South Africa and Australia. And this is only their global wine business – they are involved in a diversity of other businesses including financial, mining, real estate and agricultural ventures.
Their original goal between Rothschild and Mondavi was to combine their family wine making traditions, expertise and the innovative spirit into producing a single world class wine.
During the sale of Robert Mondavi, half of Opus One was sold. Today the winery is owned 50% by Constellation Brands and the other 50% still family owned by the Rothschilds.
One of the most easily recognized winery buildings in all of Napa Valley, glances invariably turn in its direction – especially from first time visitors to the valley driving by on Highway 29. The winery sits on top of an artificially created hill – the hill is round which is a theme you find throughout the winery in terms of the architecture and design. The grounds outside and inside are well-manicured as of course are the vineyards.
You can park on either the left or right side of the building – in our experience the right side typically fills up faster than the left side yet both parking lots are located approximately the same distance from the entrance. Sometimes when it is busy there will be an attendant at the end of the driveway directing people to park. The sizable cream colored limestone used in the building is reminiscent of public buildings in Washington DC or the Getty Center in Los Angeles.
The Neo Classical architecture combines refined European elegance with a modern California feel. Robert Mondavi used to describe the building as a “space ship” but when you get close you will see it is very elegantly designed. Most likely classical music will be playing through speakers located in the courtyard to greet you and you can either walk to the left of the main entrance to their “Partner’s Room” for a tasting of their current release or if you have a prior appointment check in at the main reception through the large wooden doors.
Their signature wine, Opus One is the only wine available for tasting in the Partner’s Room. For the price a good amount of wine is poured – not your typical 1 oz pour that most wineries offer. Tours are by appointment and depending on the tour, usually last either 90 minutes (Estate Tour & Tasting, taste of one vintage) or 120 minutes (Library Tour & Tasting, taste of 2 vintages & a more in depth look at the winery). The tours are extremely informative with group sizes kept small.
Tours begin in the ‘salon room’ with a sit down introduction provided by your host – note the “old world” style furnishings in here. A few items date back to the 18th century and some of the antiques are even much older. These items were hand selected by Robert Mondavi’s wife Margrit and the Baron’s daughter Baroness Philippine Rothschild (both deceased).
Opus One has one of the largest and cleanest looking labs of any Napa winery we have visited to date. Guests will make a short stop here and then proceed to a large production styled room of which the top of about 40 tanks can be seen poking through the floor. This is one of the nicer production facilities you will see in the valley. The de-stemmer, sorting tables and other equipment can easily be wheeled from tank to tank depending on need. Grapes are sorted using an optical sorter (one of the first wineries in the Napa Valley to embrace this technology) and then the grapes are gravity fed into the tanks. Two large rolling doors open with great views of the vineyards in the back of the winery.
During the tour, your host will discuss select details of how they manage their vineyards – from the winery (or from the upper balcony with its 360 degree view of the valley) one can clearly see how healthy and meticulously groomed these vineyards are. Questions are encouraged throughout the tour. A short walk downstairs leads to the actual tanks for a quick description of how they are used during production and then leads out of the tank room past an elegant staircase (which leads back up to the rotunda). Lastly you will enter a room which many might consider the highlight of the tour both because this is where your tasting will occur and also because of the views of the elegant barrel room. This semi-circular room is called “The Grand Chai” and contains approximately 1000 French Oak barrels full of wine.
We tried the 2004 vintage; all of Opus One’s wines are extremely high quality, but certain vintages are exceptional (such as 2013) and your guide can help clarify which ones these are. However, at the time of our tasting the 2004 was already an extremely enjoyable wine in its youth. It is very smooth on the palate, with silky tannins. A good word to describe this wine is balance – not one aspect of the wine dominates. At this age the wine is all about vibrant richly layered fruit on the palate – a few years of aging can only improve an already superbly crafted wine.
Worried about cork taint? Not with Opus One as their levels of taint are extremely low – well below the average because they employ a detailed testing program on any potential corks being considered for purchase. Corks are randomly sampled from 10,000 lot batches and when an unacceptable level of cork taint has been discovered based on testing, that particular batch will not be ordered.
The well designed logo is a profile image of both Rothschild and Mondavi’s faces. And a bit of wine trivia: Opus One was the only Napa winery verbally or visually referenced in the California Central Coast wine country based movie Sideways.
Current production is around 25,000 cases a year. No other winery in the Napa Valley can produce this volume of wine at this price point. Very international in their scope, Opus One is currently sold in over 90 countries with a very strong presence in Asia. For more information and or to arrange a visit, please see: www.opusonewinery.com
NOTE: in late 2016 Opus One broke ground on a major expansion to both production and guest service space (40,000 square feet of additional space); this is the first change to the winery footprint since its completion in 1991. The extended space houses additional tanks, fermentation rooms, barrel storage and increased visitor tasting areas. We will revisit and make an extensive update to this review and photography once the new space has been completed (a tentative completion date of early 2019).
The addition is on the east side, so the views that everyone has come to know and love looking east from Highway 29 remain the same.