Opus One: Opus Dei or Hocus Pocus?


I’ll give them this, as wineries go, Opus One was a fine and original piece of architecture, as was the project in itself.

Liv-Ex’s blog yesterday highlighted the (dispiritingly frenzied) release of California’s Opus One, the erstwhile collaboration between Baron Philippe de Rothschild and Napa aristo Robert Mondavi. The release saw the wine being “snapped up” at £1,100 per case of six.

At its conception and creation back in the late seventies there was something cheeringly optimistic and idealistic about Opus One, but in the mid 2000’s Mondavi sold out to the blandly named Constellation Brands (Opus’ stable mate is Corona Beer), and now Opus One is just that: yet another money spinning brand in the big business world that is so often “fine wine”.

So, almost two hundred quid for a bottle of large production, heavily marketed California Cabernet. I am sure it’s a great bottle of wine, but with a production of twenty five thousand cases or three hundred thousand bottles, it’s really not that rare. At this price level, Opus One makes the likes of Bordeaux’s Ducru Beaucaillou and Cos d’Estournel look cheap. That’s something you don’t have the chance to say very often.

We are in Louis Vuitton territory here.

I have been discussing this with one of Liv-Ex’s directors who feels pretty much the same as me; furthermore their data shows some interesting revelations. I suspect that few big Californian wines are kept much longer than their fifth birthday (an outrageous and egregious, not to say unsubstantiated assumption, regarding the new world consumer I know, but…) and their investment returns will be less than for those of great Bordeaux.

A comparison of Liv-Ex’s RWO50 index (Top fifty non-French, non-Bordeaux most traded/ sought after wines) against the Bordeaux 500 index (five hundred most sought after/ traded Bordeaux wines) shows that in those first five years the RWO50 outperforms the Bordeaux 500, but over ten years and beyond, the Bordeaux 500 vastly outperforms the other. “Slam dunk!” as Justin Gibbs put it.

So wherefore Opus One at two hundred quid a bottle? No doubt, in my ever so slightly patronising manner, to hold a piece of easy to understand, easy to show off and, frankly, easy to buy branded wine for a relatively unsophisticated consumer. California has other wineries  at this price level with lower production, that are harder to find and are more highly regarded .

But what do Constellation Brands care? They have sixty million quid in the bank, and still their Ouverture (Second wine?  Nothing so subjective  and  at £1000 per dozen) to sell. What is wine about, if it isn’t just about making money?

I am sure Opus One is a great bottle of wine, but it’s not Hermes..


Opus One

And lest we forget, the Rudy Kurniawan story began with Opus One. Admittedly, that’s not their fault but like Adam’s apple, look what it led to.

About matthewhayesbrognon

Wine Merchant
This entry was posted in VF - Pour encourager les autres. Bookmark the permalink.

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