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Opus One Releases "Most Challenging Vintage" Ever

The Napa Valley winery was a joint venture between Robert Mondavi and Baroness Philippine de Rothschild
© Best Bottle Shots LLC | The Napa Valley winery was a joint venture between Robert Mondavi and Baroness Philippine de Rothschild
Napa Valley winery releases 2010 vintage as it prepares to start this year's harvest.

Even before it hits retail shelves at $253 a bottle, Opus One's 2010 release has been dubbed "picture perfect" by leading wine critic Antonio Galloni, which is high praise for a vintage that the winemaker calls his "most challenging" ever.

The renowned Napa Valley Bordeaux blend was released to U.S. distributors and French négociants on Monday, and will go on sale in America on October 1.

In Galloni's view, the winery "has finally reached a level of consistency that is worthy of Opus One's image and price" with the 2010 vintage.

Winemaker Michael Silacci told Wine-Searcher: "I'm very pleased that he's appreciating our wine." While he admitted it was a tough call to describe it as the best vintage at this early stage in the wine's life, he added: "I've felt from the time that I was in the vineyard [during the 2010 harvest] that this was definitely one of the best so far."

But 2010 wasn't an easy year: it was "the most challenging vintage I've ever been through," admitted Silacci.

It was unseasonably cool with "unexpected rainfall" in the early part of the season. Silacci explained that in August many growers were leaf plucking to expose their fruit to the sun and allow better air flow  to prevent any mildew developing but he decided to keep the leaves on the vine to give them shade, predicting a heat spell ahead. Indeed, there was a heat spike in late August and early September, which hastened ripening. While they had initially expected to harvest in October, the fruit was "ready" by September 19.

Silacci revealed that 2010 had changed his "whole perspective on ripeness" and, as a result, harvest at Opus One is now much earlier than it used to be. He estimated that before 2010, they "normally picked 60 to 80 percent of our grapes in the ripe fruit zone" which he compared to jam or cooked fruit characters. Since 2010, harvest has been earlier and most of the fruit is picked when it shows "fresh fruit flavors like a fresh cherry or a blackberry." Picking earlier also means that future vintages should have higher acidity.

On the question of consistency, Silacci pointed out that Opus One has had "fairly consistent sourcing since the 1990s, always using fruit from the Te Kalon vineyard." However, when he arrived at the company in 2001, it was the first time that someone at the winery was working solely on Opus One. "That helps with the consistency."

Silacci describes the wine as having "very complex taste aromas," including an earthy note, black cherry, cassis, and a hint of chocolate. "With the mouthfeel the acidity to me is just beautiful. Not bright, but a glow – like a lighthouse."

Total 2010 production was 25,000 cases, of which 50 percent will be sent abroad. The suggested U.S. retail price is $253.

Opus One will again start this year's harvest of its Bordeaux blends earlier than many neighboring vineyards, with pickers due to venture into the fields tomorrow. "They will start picking merlot tomorrow morning at 3 a.m.," said Silacci. The malbec harvest will start on Friday, with cabernet sauvignon following next week.

Unusually for a Napa winery, Opus One does not sell its wine through a mailing list, although "a very small amount" is available through its website. 

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