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.
Excellent post! Just loved it all. And it becomes clear over the course of your tour why the pyramid (unless there is some mythological additive it imparts to the outcome?) If you wanted to recreate some of that Opus magic, you could set those terriers to digging out a sub and sub-sub-sub basement? Then Andy could dream of …pulleys!
I got to go to a tour & tasting there once years ago, amazing place
Maybe twenty years ago I went to the grand opening of what was aptly called the Applied Science and Technology building on campus. It had a wonderful lab for DESIGNING CONVEYOR BELTS!!! Flat out drool opportunity. Everyone has moved on, building repurposed, not sure anyone still designs such things now on that campus. Hope so.
I understand Andy’s euphoria. Thank you for sharing the tour. The scale is amazing. Macro to the Two Terrier micro.
The Good Baron and the Excellent Mr. Mondavi seemed to have an exuberant Victorian spirit — the kind that says, “One architectural style is great. More than three is even better.” So they tried to incorporate all kinds of different references into the place. I think the pyramid stems from the need to dig deeply to make a climate controlled cave for all the barrels. As long as you’re digging on that scale, might as well make the whole place an underground lair.
I have to admit, when I think Wondrous Wines, I don’t immediately think “conveyor belts.”
Clearly I have much yet to learn in this life.
Hilarious Lisa, I love the series of shots with Andy thinking ‘conveyor belt’. Would you mind if I pilfered a few of your photos (on Flicker) for my own album? I didn’t get many shots off from my iPhone.
Keith and I had a ball and we certainly chose the right friends to come along. Thanks!
Wow. Just Wow.
Great post, years ago I visited the Boutari winery on Santorini ( http://www.superbgreece.com/Santorini/index.htm ), but I didn’t get the VIP tour. I enjoyed the tech stuff. I had a mental image of you bare-footed w/ a long skirt crushing grapes in a giant wood container. Boy you destroyed that.
What a great tour. A friend of mine visited Opus One a few weeks ago, too.
Conveyor belts- go for it!!!!
I’d like to see the terriers prancing around in a giant barrel, smooshing and juicing the grapes 🙂