Baronne Philippe de Rothschild, S.A. and Constellation Brands
Vineyard area: 68 hectares
Average annual production: 25,000 cases
Opus One is a
Bordeaux style, Californian Cabernet blend – a wine that aspires to reflect the
best of both the Old and New Worlds. The joint venture was devised in 1978 by
Baron Philippe de Rothschild and celebrated American winemaker Robert Mondavi,
who declared the wine their “Opus One”. The first vintage was
produced in 1979 from the best vineyards of Mondavi’s winery in Oakville. In
1981, however, the founders began acquiring their own vineyards and went on to
purchase around 56 hectares of land in just three years. The brand’s first
vintages (1979 and 1980) were simultaneously released in 1984 and quickly
became international news.
In the years that
followed, both of the original founders passed away. After a long career
at the helm of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Philippe de Rothschild died in 1988
at the age of 86 and was succeeded by his daughter Baroness Philippine de
Rothschild. Robert Mondavi died in 2008, aged 94.
In 2004, four years
before his death, Robert Mondavi relinquished his share in Opus One and sold
his company to Constellation Brands. The wine conglomerate thus acquired a 50%
stake in the estate, though it was agreed that vineyard management and
winemaking would be independently overseen by Opus One – headed by CEO David
Pearson. Michael Silacci was appointed winemaker and became the first person to
assume full responsibility for viticulture and winemaking.
Today, this “grand cru” is one of California’s most famous wines and has
developed a keen following at home and in Japan.
“Maybe my best vintage yet,” said winemaker Michael
Silacci of the 2010 – a sentiment with which many critics seemed to agree.
Stephen Tanzer, who was impressed by the 2008 and 2009 (awarding both 93 points),
gave 95 points to the 2010: his highest since the 1999. He described the wine
as “suave and silky in the mouth, with terrific concentration and aromatic lift
to the savoury dark berry, crushed stone and mineral flavours.” Antonio Galloni
was even more effusive, calling the wine “flat-out gorgeous” and scoring it 97.
Opus One 2010 has
seen good activity on Liv-ex in September. Trade for the wine has brought the
USA’s monthly market share to 4.2% – a record for the region, which rarely
accounts for more than 1% by value.
As is evident in the
scores above, Opus One has at times divided critics (particularly the 2002 and
the 2003, both of which were scored 94 points by Parker). Its popularity has historically
been connected to the brand, hence the lack of variation in price for recent
This may change with
Opus One 2010. At the moment it is notably cheaper than its older siblings, and
with seemingly unanimous approval from the critics it looks to offer value to
buyers. With demand being seen on the secondary market, perhaps now is the time
for the Californian wine to reach new audiences.