Sometimes when you are attempting something, especially when you are trying to learn it all on the fly, it pays to step back and take a look at how it’s done by the experts. Call it a mental calibration exercise. So it was fortuitous that our friends Keith and Christine had bid on a charity auction item for a private tasting at the joint Mondavi/Rothschild Napa Winery and graciously invited us to join them. In case you are unfamiliar with Opus One, it is basically the apotheosis of French and American wine making techniques as practiced when money, time and personnel are no object. The result: Cabernet that sells for several hundred dollars a bottle. Up to $700 a bottle, I’m told, in Asia. So let’s just say Mr. Mondavi and the Good Baron are just a bit ahead of us in this game.

Case in point Number One. Neither Mr. Mondavi nor Baron de Rothschild, when they were still with us, were living in a barn and processing on an open air crush pad. As we pulled up to the partially submerged pyramid that is the Opus One facility, we couldn’t help having flashbacks to Austin Power’s Dr. Evil. The site definitely has “underground lair” potential.

The subterranean parts of this submerged pyramid are Bob and Phillipe’s command center.

Then we were ushered into a private tasting room thoughtfully decorated with priceless antiques from the Baroness’s personal collection.

The Baroness has exquisite taste. And lots of money.

The Baroness has exquisite taste. And lots of money.

Check out this whimsical antique drinking ram -- or mouton (in French). As in Chateau Mouton de Rothschild. Get it?

Check out this whimsical antique drinking ram — or mouton (in French). As in Chateau Mouton de Rothschild. Get it?

Sadly, the Baron and Mr. Mondavi could not be with us, having passed to another Chateau. But our guide ably led us in a toast to their efforts.

A toast to the Good Mssrs. Mondavi and Rothschild! If they have fine Bordeaux style wines in Heaven, they are drinking them.

A toast to the Good Mssrs. Mondavi and Rothschild! If they have fine Bordeaux style wines in Heaven, they are drinking them.

Fortified with caviar, pate and a bit of bubbly (which is NOT made at Opus One), we headed out for our tour. First stop was the laboratory. Which was just a step up from our formica-lined ready-made shed.

Our guide explained that a sample of liquid from every fermenting vat is taken every day for visual inspection and testing.

Our guide explained that a sample of liquid from every fermenting vat is taken every day for visual inspection and testing.

Obviously there is a slightly higher quality control standard than at Two Terrier Vineyards.

Obviously there is a slightly higher quality control standard than at Two Terrier Vineyards.

Next, into the bowels of the pyramid and the production floor where newly picked grapes were being unloaded, destemmed and processed.

Hmmm. Handtrucks instead of using brute force and ignorance to lift heavy bins. We could use that technological innovation.

Hmmm. Handtrucks instead of using brute force and ignorance to lift heavy bins. We could use that technological innovation.

This was the last point where any of the Good Baron and Mr. Mondavi’s methods and processes would seem remotely adaptable for Two Terriers, either on our budget or in our lifetime. This is also where Andy completely lost touch with reality and slipped into a Winemaking Delusion. Seems the Baron and Mr. Mondavi are all about the conveyor belt. Andy’s their soul brother.

There are conveyor belts that gently shuttle the grapes from bin to work floor and through various pieces of machinery that sound as if they are from Austin Powers.

There are conveyor belts that gently shuttle the grapes from bin to work floor and through various pieces of machinery that would do Auric Goldfinger proud.

For instance, one conveyor belt takes the grapes through an optical scanner where what is deemed “the perfect grape” is scanned. Once that image is loaded in the machine, it scans all the grapes going by and rejects any that don’t match that level of perfection. Then another conveyor belt takes the remaining “perfect” grapes through a blower to remove stray leaves, then a gentle destemmer. Finally, another conveyor belt sends those destemmed perfect grapes past a group of women workers who sort out any bits of stem or renegade fruit that might have slipped past the machinery.

The first human leg of an extensive quality control operation.

The first human leg of an extensive quality control operation.

Only the Platonic Ideal of a wine grape gets to this point. Could we teach terriers to do this?

Only the Platonic Ideal of a wine grape gets to this point. Could we teach terriers to do this?

If the conveyor belts get going too fast, do you get a Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory moment?

If the conveyor belts get going too fast, do you get a “Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory” moment?

Then deeper into the pyramid to the floor below where these perfect grapes, once crushed are dropped into the huge fermentation tanks. Mike, the Production Manager from the floor above, not only explained everything there, but followed us down to explain the workings on the next floor. He said it was because he was enjoying talking to someone like Andy who knew so much about the process. But I don’t think Andy was taking much in after the conveyor belts.

Mike: Let me explain about the fermentation. Andy: Conveyer belts....

Mike: “Let me explain about the fermentation”. Andy: “Conveyor belts….”

Mike: Heres the real secret to our winemaking. Andy: Conveyor belts.

Mike: “Here’s the real secret to our winemaking.” Andy: “Hmmm. Conveyor belts.”

Next down to the barrel room and the final tasting room. The barrels stretch on seemingly into infinity. Or at least in a huge loop all around the base of the pyramid.

There is probably no other concentration of such liquid wealth. Other than some OPEC storage facility in Saudi Arabia.

There is probably no other concentration of such liquid wealth. Other than some OPEC storage facility in Saudi Arabia.

Each of these barrels is hand painted with a red stripe of some sort of organic fungicide. Then bound with some willow hoop at the end to keep out the weevils. As if any fungus or weevil would dare breach the perimeter of the hallowed command post of Mssrs. Mondavi and Rothschild!

While our friends listened in fascination, I contemplated how I could get the Novato Eight Grade to come to Two Terriers and paint barrels as an art project.

While our friends listened in fascination, I contemplated how I could get the Novato Eighth Grade to come to Two Terriers and paint barrels as an “art project”.

At this point, blinded with science, we were led back to the private tasting room to taste this liquid money.

We had tasted 2001 & 2006 Bordeaux Blend Reserve. A mostly Cabernet blend.

We tasted 2001 & 2006 Bordeaux Blend Reserves, which were mostly Cabernet blends. Accompanied by thoughtful, elegant hors d’oeuvres.

Here Alison is thinking what we all were: Any chance Costco might have a special on this?

Here Alison is thinking what we all were: “Any chance Costco might have a special on this?”

Later, we emerged from the bowels of the pyramid, humbled, overwhelmed, a bit tipsy on wonderful wine and full of admiration for Mr. Mondavi and The Good Baron.

From the top of their pyramid, the Baron and Mr. Mondavi could survey their realm.

From the top of their pyramid, the Baron and Mr. Mondavi could survey their realm.

Only Andy had a different take. He’s been walking around since Saturday muttering “Conveyor Belts!” Periodically interrupted with typical Andy bursts of optimism.

Ive got a plan to recreate this whole Mondavi/Rothschild process at Two Terriers!

“I’ve got a plan to recreate the whole Mondavi/Rothschild process at Two Terriers! We CAN DO THIS!”

Coming soon to Two Terrier Vineyards: CONVEYOR BELTS!

NOTE: For more pictures of our Opus One Adventure, click here. And thanks Christina and Keith for letting us tag along on this wonderful adventure.

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