Opus One was founded in 1979 by Baron Philippe de Rothschild and Robert Mondavi. Of the great European wine families, the Rothschilds are perhaps the best known. And Baron Philippe de Rothschild is perhaps the best known of this great family. Philippe’s vision changed the world of wine: he invented Château bottling, commissioned great artists to illustrate his wine labels – and, in partnership with Robert Mondavi in 1979, created Opus One. Among great New World wine pioneers, Robert Mondavi is an international icon. Bringing a passion for excellence to everything he did, Robert Mondavi led a renaissance in California fine wine for over six decades. Among other accomplishments, he introduced temperature-controlled fermentation, French oak barrel aging, and high-density viticulture to a fledgling American wine industry.
Château Mouton Rothschild winemaker Lucien Sionneau and Robert Mondavi’s son Timothy made the partnership’s first vintage at the Robert Mondavi Winery in 1979. The following year the partners officially announced their joint venture.
In 1981 a single case of the joint venture wine sold for $24,000 at the first Napa Valley Wine Auction – the highest price ever paid for a California wine. In 1982 Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild began label design. The partners agreed to choose a name of Latin origin for the joint venture, allowing for easy recognition in both English and French. Baron Philippe announced his choice, “Opus,” a musical expression denoting the first masterwork of a composer. Two days later he proposed an additional word: “Opus One”.
The 1979 and 1980 vintages were simultaneously unveiled in 1984 as Opus One’s first release. Opus One then became known as America’s first ultra-premium wine, establishing a category of wine priced by the bottle at $50 and above.
Following Lucien Sionneau’s retirement in 1985, Patrick Léon joined Château Mouton Rothschild as winemaker and Timothy Mondavi as co-winemaker of Opus One.
Three years later, Baron Philippe de Rothschild died in France at the age of 85; and Baroness Philippine de Rothschild took the reins of the family wine business. This same year Opus One exported a share of its 1985 vintage – and became the first ultra-premium California wine to be sold in France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland. International demand for the wine continued, and in 1999 Opus One celebrated its 20th anniversary by holding vertical tastings and gala dinners in Oakville, New York, Paris and London. In 2001 the release of its 20th vintage – the 1998 – was met with gala events in Tokyo and Hong Kong.
The winery’s board of directors appointed David Pearson CEO in 2004, the first person singly responsible for Opus One. Michael Silacci was thereafter named winemaker, the first to assume full responsibility for viticulture and winemaking. This began, as Robert Parker has noted, a new era at Opus. Parker noted in his Wine Advocate that “the full-bodied, opulent 2004 is part of the new wave of Opus Ones made under the administration of Philippe Dhalluin, the administrator of Mouton Rothschild, who has begun to exploit this estate’s enormous potential.”
More recently, Parker declared that, “This estate has been making great Cabernet-based wines for nearly a decade.”
Opus One 2011 Napa Red $229.99/bottle
“Deep ruby-red. Rather cool aromas of plum syrup, cocoa powder, licorice and fresh herbs. Spicier and leaner than the young 2012, with a strong impression of acidity and an herbal element giving a tart quality to the blackberry, graphite and leather flavors. Finishes brisk but a bit sour, with some spiky acidity and lingering pepper and herb notes.”
90 points Tanzer