Baron Philippe de Rothschild (1902-88) was a world-class business tycoon who made a fortune in artwork labels and Bordeaux wine. He is known for his pioneering work in modernizing his vineyards and introducing wines in bottles rather than barrels. In 1978, he decided to expand his business in the USA by collaborating with the famous winemaking expert in California, Robert Mondavi. Both these businessmen belonged to strong families with solid winemaking traditions. Their productive meeting created an integration of the winemaking business of both families. The primary aim of their collaboration was to manufacture excellent wines in California’s Napa Valley.
Baron Philippe de Rothschild (left) and Zino Davidoff (right) Claude Richardet, CC BY-SA 4.0
Consequently, their venture was named Opus One – regarded as first-of-its-kind growth in California. The origins of the term Opus One came from an ancient Latin terminology, Oper, which implies the first masterpiece of a musician. In 1979, Timothy Mondavi (Robert’s son) and Lucien Sionneau (Baron Rothschild’s winemaking expert) teamed together and produced their first vintage – Napamedoc. This unique label represented the symbol of Franco-American winemaking traditions. Nonetheless, this first vintage was officially launched in 1980.
Later, the new vintage was labeled as Opus One in 1982. The vineyards of Opus One spanned more than 50 hectares. Both Mondavi and Baron Philippe had some interesting views about wines. For instance, Robert Mondavi believed that winemaking represents the generosity of spirit and heart’s passion. Wine brings together our near and dear ones, friends and families.
On the other hand, Baron Philippe believed that wine transcended humans and never perished after its birth. In 2004, Robert Mondavi’s winery was taken over by Constellation Brands. Both parties agreed to a 50% partnership after a mutual agreement.
Trendy and Costly
Opus One wines were costly – even in the 1980s. For instance, a case of 12 bottles was sold for $24,000, an unprecedented price for a Napa Valley wine. Although Opus One has always remained a trendy wine brand, it manufactures only two varieties. The first variety is a red Cabernet-rich Bordeaux style wine, including small quantities of Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, etc. The second variety of Opus One is known as Overture, and it is produced from grapes that are of lesser quality compared to Opus One. Overture refers to a piece of music the orchestra plays at the outset of a musical composition.
The Wine-Making Process
The manufacturers go through a highly tedious and lengthy process to achieve the quality of Opus One. First, the grapes are picked by hand and collected in distinct lots in an advanced winemaking facility. Next, each lot of grapes is assorted and fermented distinctly – requiring more than 30 substantial fermentation tanks.
The sorting process of grapes is based on cutting-edge technology, where each grape is individually evaluated through optical sensors to assess their sizes, colours, and shapes. Finally, these grapes are fermented in different oak barrels.
The company yields up to a thousand barrels annually. The quality assurance process of Opus One is intriguing, as the final blend is tested for taste in an advanced laboratory by Michael Silacci – a winemaking expert with 20+ years of experience. Thus, it can be imagined that the cost of such a cutting-edge winemaking facility can only be maintained with a sizeable price of Opus One wine bottles. For instance, some vintages can cost up to $360 per bottle.
One limitation of buying an Opus One vintage is that the winery has put a purchasing threshold for the clients – i.e., four 6-bottle cases or six individual bottles. Therefore, it is tough to hoard your Opus One vintages.