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.
Then we were ushered into a private tasting room thoughtfully decorated with priceless antiques from the Baroness’s personal collection.
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.
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.
Next, into the bowels of the pyramid and the production floor where newly picked grapes were being unloaded, destemmed and processed.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
At this point, blinded with science, we were led back to the private tasting room to taste this liquid money.
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.
Only Andy had a different take. He’s been walking around since Saturday muttering “Conveyor Belts!” Periodically interrupted with typical Andy bursts of optimism.
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.