New Bordeaux in California - The Story of Opus One

New Bordeaux in California - The Story of Opus One

This Winery conquered this half of the globe, became the most famous wine outside Europe, placed Napa Valley on the Wine Maps of the world, and broke dozens of records regarding price, quality, and popularity.

Their Story can teach us about the value of meaningful collaboration and the quest for quality over quantity in an ever-expanding economy.

The Story of Opus One - New Bordeaux in California


Our Story begins in 1970, in Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Big Island of Hawaii. At this hotel, a very unlikely but also very fortunate coincidence happened. Two giants of the Wine World have met and this little coincidence eventually gave rise to the greatest collaboration in the wine world. These two gentlemen were Baron Philippe de Rothschild and Robert Mondavi.

Baron Philippe de Rothschild was one of the most important figures in the 20th-century wine industry. After taking over the family winery in Bordeaux he single-handedly changed the wine landscape of Bordeaux. Today his Bordeaux winery Chateau Mouton Rothschild makes the most sought-after wine in the world.

Robert Mondavi on the other side of the Atlantic ocean was the wine champion of the USA, with his extremely famous Robert Mondavi Winery. He was the first to introduce the heavily oaked style Sauvignon Blanc and named it Fume Blanc. The Robert Mondavi Winery was the first major winery built in Napa Valley after the prohibition era.

Eight years after their first encounter, in 1978 the Baron invited Mondavi to Bordeaux and after the meeting of the two heavyweights, the idea of Opus One was born. The first wine was made the following year, but wouldn't be released to the public only five years later. These first steps already can reflect their commitment to the art of winemaking. The original name was Napamedoc, a combination of the two regions, Napa Valley in California and Medoc the legendary subregion of Bordeaux. The message behind this was the idea that they were combining the knowledge, tradition, and style of the two regions to create something unique. The name was changed to Opus One in 1982, which is a musical term referring to a composer's first masterpiece.

In 1981 Opus One set the record for the most expensive Napa wine when a 12 bottle case sold at auction for 24,000 dollars and in 1984 became America's first ultra-premium wine available to the public. In the 1990s Opus One became extremely popular in Europe and Asia.

The Vineyard

The vineyard is located in Oakville California. One part of the wine comes from the legendary To Kalon vineyard (To Kalon - a Greek term meaning "the beautiful") - this small vineyard is known to be the best winemaking land in Napa. The majority of the vineyard consists of Cabernet Sauvignon, but they also have small plots of Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec. All the grapes are harvested by hand and they apply traditional practices in the vineyard and winery.

The Wine

Now, this is where it becomes really interesting. They produce only ONE wine under the name of Opus One. Hence the name, Opus ONE! Their only focus is to create the best of the best from the highest quality fruits. Not trying to optimize their portfolio to the fluctuations of the markets, not trying to please everyone.

The best quality grapes are sorted one by one, with a custom-made machine made for Opus One. It uses cameras to analyze every grape berry's shape, size, and color to eliminate the ones that are not up to the standards of the wine. Each plot is vinified separately creating many, slightly different wine samples. After the fermentation, each wine is analyzed on its own and then the best ones are blended in perfect harmony to create the Opus One. After blending, the wine is aged in French Oak barrels for 18 months and an additional 15 months in the bottle. The wine is released on October 1 each year.

The average price of Opus One is around 350$ per bottle. That seems a lot at first glance but not if you look at it in the proper context. At an average price of 350$, it is actually a great deal. Other wines from this category can cost 5 to 10 times more. The most expensive wine from this reagin is the  Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc at an average price of 5756$. Even if it is not that expensive it is still extremely limited. Opus one limits its buyers to only six bottles.

The New Chapter

In 1993 following Bordeaux tradition they launched a new wine brand, a second non-vintage wine called Overture, from fruits that don't make the cut for Opus One.The Overture name is also a music metaphor meaning an orchestral piece at the beginning of a composition. Today Opus One is the most searched-for wine in the USA and the 7th globally. It became an iconic wine in California and it is often represented in culture. For example in the famous Manga series called Drops of God. In 2004 Mondavi sold his 50% share to Constellation Brands for 1.3 BILLION. The winery is currently equally owned by the Baron Philip de Rotchild Corporation and Constellation Brands.


The philosophy of Opus One can be an excellent example for the next generation. Fewer and fewer people are striving for the noble quest of building something everlasting. Something valuable. While everyone is chasing the next big thing, how to make money fast, get a Lamborghini, quit your 9 to 5 job, and retire early, we should slow down and start thinking about creating something that we are really proud of.

I would like to close this with a quote from Opus One: ”Together, our founders set out to create a single wine dedicated to the pursuit of uncompromising quality. This singular mission shapes every vintage, today and for generations to come.”

Whatch the video about this topic here:

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