Opus One Winery: The KnowWines Review

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We’re fortunate to have been visiting the Napa and Sonoma Wine Country for about ten years. In those years, we have visited  Opus One multiple times. As fellow wine enthusiasts and seasoned travelers, we understand that anonymous reviews in public travel forums often give little insight into the wine experience (and you often can’t gauge the experience of the person writing the review!). As the price of wine tours and wine tastings increases, we aim to help our fellow experience seekers know what to expect! In this blog, we’ve put together our insights on the renowned Opus One winery.

Things to Consider Before Purchasing an Opus One Tasting

The Opus One tour is ideal for anyone interested in a luxury wine tasting experience. It’s perfect for the following types of travelers: 

  • Wine enthusiasts who want to see and taste the fruits of the historical collaboration between Napa’s Robert Mondavi and Bordeaux’s Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Château Mouton Rothschild

  • Wine collectors who want to taste the current vintage of Opus One, one older vintage of Opus One, and/or the winery’s second label Overture

  • Fans of architect Scott Johnson of Johnson, Fain & Pereira

  • Fans of Bordeaux-style wines 

  • Fans of cult Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine

This experience is not ideal for wine enthusiasts looking for a fast, boisterous, casual tasting.  This experience is not for wine lovers seeking out white wines, sweet wines, or a range of different wines. Finally, this wine tasting experience is not for travelers seeking out small, independently owned wineries specializing in bespoke grape varieties. 

Before purchasing the Opus One wine tasting or tour experience, you will need to consider the following: 

  • How much do you want to spend on the experience? 

  • How long do you want to visit and what do you want to see? 

  • Do you want to taste the current release or three different wines?

What is Opus One?

Opus One started as a partnership between Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild. The aim was to craft a wine combining winemaking approaches from both Napa, California and Bordeaux, France.  They aspired to craft a wine that would become their “Opus.”

While the two met first in 1970, it was not until 1984 that the first vintages (1979 and 1980) were released. Opus One was not crafted in the present facility in Oakville until 1991. Prior to 1991, the wine was made at the nearby Robert Mondavi winery.  

To learn more about this partnership and its significance in American Wine History, check out the House of Mondavi. It’s quite amazing (from both from an enology and from a marketing perspective) that a First Growth Bordeaux - Château Mouton Rothschild - would partner with a newer winery from ‘upstarts’ in Napa Valley.  

Opus One wine (and the second label wine Overture) are Bordeaux-style blends comprised of  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. The grapes in Opus One originate from the estate’s approximately 100 acres of vineyards.

Here are the pros and cons of an Opus One tasting experience at the winery.

Pros

  • A serene and elegant tasting experience

  • No one under 21 allowed

  • Great views of Napa Valley

  • Unhurried tasting experience

  • Arrive early and avoid crowds

Cons

  • Tasting fee not waived with purchase

  • No picnics, no pets

  • Plan several days ahead for reservation during the peak travel season 

Choosing Your Experience

Booking

Opus One makes it very easy to book your visit. The website outlines several types of winery visits depending on your budget, interest, and desired experience. When you purchase your ticket online, you quickly receive an email confirmation.

There are a few tasting and tour options available. However, Guided Tours and Library Tastings are not available until the end of 2019 as the winery is undergoing renovations.  Opus One Tasting Appointment at the Pavilion is the only tasting currently available during the renovation.  

We purchased our tickets three days in advance for a 10:00 am tasting on a Sunday.  The weekends can be very busy, as well as weekdays during summer and harvest. To avoid crowds and get more 1:1 attention, we recommend choosing tasting times earlier in the day.  

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Arriving

The Opus One winery is located near Oakville, California at 7900 St Helena Hwy, Oakville, CA 94562.  It is located 70 miles north of SFO airport in San Francisco and 13 miles north of Napa, California. Drive time from downtown Napa is about 20 minutes in the off season, but can be an hour or more during peak season as the road narrows from four lanes to two lanes north of Napa.

If you are approaching the winery from the south on Highway 29, look for Oakville Grocery on your right. The entrance to Opus One is the next driveway on the right. If you approach the winery from Oakville Cross Road from the east, there is a service entrance that is sometimes open if you want to avoid Highway 29.  If you approach the winery from the north on Highway 29, you will need to take a left turn across northbound traffic (which is not a pleasant experience on the busy weekend or on a rainy day!).

The gates to Opus One are closed outside business hours. However, there is enough room off of Highway 29 to pull off onto the driveway to get out of the flow of traffic.  

As you approach the winery from the main driveway, you will see its distinct architecture, which say is reminiscent of a spaceship.  There is ample parking on the north and south sides of the winery.  

As you walk to the main entrance, you are greeted by creme colored limestone columns, olive trees, grassy lawn and the large wooden doors.  

It is behind these doors where you find the concierge who will direct you to your tasting.   During renovations, a temporary tasting pavilion will be set up near the winery.  

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Our Tasting Experience

On our most recent visit, we chose the Opus One Tasting Appointment as this was the only tasting currently available during the renovation. This tasting consists of one 2 oz. pour of 2013 Opus One, 2015 Opus One, and Overture for $75. Wines by the glass were also available for purchase.

The concierge checked us in and walked with us to the tasting salon called the Partners’ Room. The check-in process was much like a visit to a high-end department store like Saks or Bergdorf’s.  

In the Partners’ Room (or Pavillion, during renovation) you can select wine by the glass or by the tasting flight. 

Seating is available in the Partners’ Room as well as outside the tasting room. Alternatively, you can climb the stairs and take in the views of the Vaca and Mayacamas Mountains as well as a good portion of the Napa Valley.

We planned for 90 minutes to enjoy the wines and walk the grounds.  Water and crackers are available upon request at no additional cost.  Feel free to ask the host questions about the wine and winery - if the room is not crowded, most are happy to visit with you for several minutes to answer any questions.  The staff has always been helpful in recommending additional tasting rooms, dining options, and lodging recommendations in the area.  

When you return your glasses to the tasting salon, you have the option to purchase bottles of the wines you tasted.  Opus One is distributed throughout the United States and the world, so check with the hostess in the Partners’ Room or Pavilion to find out if the wines are available in your state or hometown.

If you do purchase one or more bottles at Opus One, check out our article on getting your wines home safely.

Social Proof

Throughout the years, we’ve been sending friends and colleagues to this winery.  Most enjoy the experience, as do many online reviewers. Like us, the positive reviews highlight a serene tasting environment, knowledgeable staff, a relaxed pace, great views, and attentive but not pushy service.  

Most negative reviews of Opus One are on the topic of price and the winery not accommodating children and pets.  Also, some visitors prefer ‘warm’ country-cozy ambiance or the rustic elegance they experience at some other wineries. This winery’s ambiance is much more ‘cool’ and Neo Classical, true to the intention of combining European traditions with California wine.  There is only one style of wine to taste here, and some are disappointed in that as well.

Alternatives

We’ve visited 100 wineries in Napa Valley in the past 10 years, and as such, we’re able to provide recommendations for other wineries in the area should you find the price too high or you are simply not able to get in for a tasting.   

Wineries that allow children

Wineries that specialize in Bordeaux-style blends:

Other Cult Cabs:

Conclusions on Opus One Winery

If you like serene tastings and savoring one wine for 30 minutes or more, go here - you won’t regret it.  Also go if you just want to see what all the fuss is about. We do recommend going during the off-season or in the morning hours before the crowds descend.  We’ve never felt pressured to purchase wines after the tastings.  

If you are looking for a boisterous experience that never gets too serious about wine, don’t go here.  Don’t go here if you are looking for a glass of "cheap" wine or a bar-like experience.

If you are wanting to partake in a library tasting or a cellar tour, contact the winery and check when these tastings will be available again following construction.  

Cheers!

How to Check Wine When You Fly

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KnowWines has flown with wine bottles, beer bombers, liquor, and wine cases domestically (US) and internationally since 2000. Out of about 1000 bottles, we’ve had only one small beer bottle break! Here we give you the lowdown on 20 years of flying with booze (on any budget!).

Before we dive in, here are some reasons you might fly with wine:

  • Souvenir from business trip

  • Momento from a vacation

  • Traveling to a location with poor wine selection

  • Moving your household domestically and/or internationally

Planning to Travel with Wine

Before booking your airfare, here are a few things to consider:

  • Traveling one way with wine?  Use stackable luggage to reduce luggage fees.

  • Concerned about luggage weight on return flight? When flying domestically on an economy or premium economy ticket, the luggage weight limit is likely 50 lbs (if you go over this, there are additional fees).  If you are flying business or first class, the baggage allowance is typically 70 lbs per bag. Consider upgrading on your return flight for a larger luggage allowance.

  • Traveling with wine when it is over 70 F at your origin, connection, and destination?  Consider shipping as your wine might get “cooked” on the tarmac.

  • Do wines fly free? Some airlines like Southwest Airlines always have two free checked bags allowance. Other airlines, like Alaska Airlines, have Wines Fly Free promotion for Mileage Plan™ members only. In this promotion, one case (12 bottles) flies free in a cardboard box. Check with your airline for freebies and restrictions!

Start with a Hard-Sided Suitcase

You’ll be placing any wine you’re taking home from your wine country experiences in your checked bag (along with any other liquid over 100 mL or 3.4 ounces). The first step in protecting the wine bottle is the construction of your suitcase.

We strongly recommend a hard-sided suitcase. Why? When there is a luggage showdown in the belly of an airplane, a soft--sided bag versus golf clubs, golf clubs will likely win. Not good news for your wine!

If you are planning to travel regularly with six or more bottles of wine, consider investing in one of these VinGard Valise suitcases.  We’ve had ours for three years and love it. We also frequently loan it out to wine-loving friends.

Another option available online and at wineries are wine boxes with wheels and handles. Our experience is that these are much better than transporting a standard box of wine, but they are not as convenient as they could be. In general, they do the trick to get wine home safe and sound, but they have limitations. For a solo traveler they can be tricky to handle. Also, the wheels and strap combination are tricky - it’s a lot like adding an unwilling 50 lb toddler to your luggage! If you have a partner or driver who can help you maneuver luggage and the box (or are using a luggage cart) they are a great option.   

How to Keep Wine Cool When It’s Hot

Once you have arrived in wine country, check the forecast. If temperatures are over 70 F, you will need to find a way to keep your wines cool while you drive between destinations.  

Take a frozen food bag with you in your checked bag, or pick one up at a grocery store at your wine destination. This type of insulated bag with robust handles and foldability is great to take with you in the rental car if you plan to purchase a few wines each day.

Prevent your labels from getting wet by placing ice in a ziploc bag and wrapping that bag with newspaper or a towel from the hotel or AirBnB. Don’t place wine in the trunk of the car unless it is in a cooler. We love these two gallon freezer bags and always keep them with us in our suitcase for wine travel and any other travel needs.

So, you’ve kept your precious selections cool in the car. Don’t let them go to ruin on the airport tarmac! If the weather in your departing or connecting city will be over 70 F, have your wines shipped.  

Will Wine Freeze During Travel?

Flying with wine when it is cold?  A bottle of wine will not freeze until it is about 15 or 20 degrees F, and it will take a little while for wine to freeze, especially if it is insulated by your clothes in a suitcase or in a box containing styrofoam.  

However, if your travels take you to extremely cold climates, you may want to have it shipped professionally.  If you do travel to someplace like Alaska with a few bottles of wine and your luggage is delayed a day and or two, check the cork when it arrives to determine whether or not the wine has been compromised.  If the cork is pushed out a little bit then the wine likely froze during transit.

How Much Does a Bottle of Wine Weigh?

Wine bottles vary in size and weight, and unless your AirBnB or hotel room comes with a scale, estimating the weight can be tricky.  Bottles vary in size and weight due to a variety of factors, including marketing purposes or traditions in the region of origin.

As a rule of thumb, wine bottles weigh between 2  and 4 pounds. However, we know that when it comes to luggage fees, every ounce counts!  

Here are some wine bottle sizes and wine bottle weights you will come across.  I include some craft beer bombers, liquor examples for comparison.

  • A half bottle (or demi) of Riesling at 375 mL weighs 1 lb 9 ounces (708 grams)

  • A bottle of Whiskey at 700 mL weighs 2 lbs 9 ounces (1162 grams)

  • A Bordeaux-style bottle at 750 mL weighs 2 lb 10 ounces (1190 grams)

  • A bottle of Riesling at 750 mL weighs 2 lb 12 ounces (1247 grams)

  • A Belgian Beer bomber at 750 mL can weigh 3 lbs 6 ounces (1531 grams)

  • A bottle of Pinot Noir or Chardonnay in a Burgundy bottle at 750 mL can weigh 3 lbs 9 ounces (1616 grams)

  • A bottle of luxury cult Cabernet Sauvignon at 750 mL can weigh 4 lbs 5 oz (1956 grams)

 
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Invest in Wine Bottle Bags

One of the best wine travel hacks is to travel with wine bottle bags. They don’t take up space when empty, many are reusable, and most weigh under 2 ounces. The best wine bottle bags are reusable, and can accommodate liquor and beer bombers as well.  We’ve also used them to transport non-alcoholic bottles like olive oil and vinegar. Things we look for in a good wine bottle bag are a non-adhesive seal (reusable), a cushion of some sort, absorbent pads, material that is not transparent, and no sharp edges.  

We’ve used wine bottle bags for over ten years and find that you can get about three years of use out of them if you are traveling three to six times per year.  You can get some more life out of them if they separate at the seams by taping the edges with clear packing tape.

Here is our favorite wine travel bag.    

When Traveling, Don’t Buy Wine You Can Buy at Home

Don’t mess with flying with or shipping wine if you can get the same wine at home! In the tasting room, always ask, “Can I get this specific wine at home?”.  Most tasting room staff are happy to look up the availability of a wine in your country, state, or city.

Wines you should buy at the winery and consider taking home with you:

  • Wines you love and can only get at the winery

  • Wine you love that is sold at a discount at the winery

  • Wine that is not distributed to your state, or is only available in very small quantities or in a city far from your home

  • Wine from older vintages that may not be available at your hometown wine bottle shop

Economy Wine Carrier

No extra funds for luxury luggage or wine bottle bags?  No wine shipper near where you are traveling? Didn’t plan on buying a wine and came unprepared?  Never fear.

Simply place a couple of socks around the bottle and insert it into any bag (trash bag, Ziploc bag, hotel laundry bag).  With the remaining space in the bag, fill it with absorbent material like underwear, diapers, or clothing to provide some shock absorption.

Packing the Suitcase

Whether you are using wine bags or socks, we take the same approach to packing wines in our checked bags. Here’s our step-by-step guide:

  • Lay your empty suitcase on the floor, bed or other level surface.

  • Line the perimeter of the suitcase with shoes and other bulky items.

  • Place wines in the center of the suitcase.

  • Place clothing/soft material around the neck of the bottle.

  • Make sure the bottle won’t move around in the suitcase freely.  Loose wine in luggage is how the neck can get snapped.

Checking the Bag

Your bottles are safely secured inside your luggage and you are on your way to the airport.  Here are some tips based our previous experiences traveling with wine.

Rental Car Logistics

Traveling with a friend? Have them drop you off at the check-in station so that you don’t have to juggle heavy luggage on the rental car shuttle.

Traveling alone with a rental car?  I’ve had luck tipping the rental car return agent to drop me off in my rental car.  This option might not be available if the rental car return is very busy.

We don’t know how much it helps, but we always ask for a fragile sticker at the airport to put on the bag.  

Insurance

Check with your credit card and airline for insurance options. Some airlines will cover wine up to a certain value when it is checked in a cardboard box with styrofoam, however most will not.  

Fragile Sticker

I’ve noticed no difference in how my luggage has been handled when someone places a Fragile sticker on my bag.  However, that bright sticker can bring some temporary psychological relief during a hectic time!

Don’t Drink Your Wine As Soon As You Get Home

Once you get the wine home, your wine may suffer from temporary bottle shock (or bottle sickness).  This means that the wine might temporarily taste muted. Let the wine sit on its side for a week or two and it should return back to normal.  

While we don’t necessarily know what causes bottle shock, we do know that there are a lot of complex components in wine that can be negatively impacted by heat and shaking.  

Bottle shock does not occur with all wines. A younger wine might recover quickly, while an older wine or wines heavy in sediment might take longer to recover from bottle shock.

Know the Rules and Pack Cash or Check when Flying Internationally

When flying domestically and into the United States, TSA rules do not limit the amount of wine you can check, with one exception: if your wine has more than 24% alcohol. Since most wines have less than 24% alcohol, this is not a problem with the TSA.  

Some states do have regulations on the amount of wine you can bring in to the state for personal use.  It’s best practice to check your state law online especially if you live in a “control state.”

If you are flying into a “dry” country, or country that limits alcohol import due to religious regions, check with that country’s equivalent to TSA for rules and regulations.  

We always declare wines when we are traveling internationally.  Simply declare the items on your customs form (paper or electronic) or at the Global Entry kiosk.  Enter the amount of goods. If the amount is under the exception, the customs agent will wave you through.  Sometimes the customs agent will not charge you if the amount is near the exception. If it is over the exception, they will calculate the charge and you can pay with US currency or with a personal check.  The charge is typically about 4%, so for $1000 in wine this could be $40.

Shipping Wine

So you’ve found a great wine while traveling.  Ask the winery about their shipment options, as they can vary significantly between wineries.  Costs may vary due to the distance the wine needs to travel, whether the wine is being shipped to a home or business, how many wines are in the shipment, and the rate negotiated with the shipper. Most wineries will ship directly to you when temperatures are cooler, or will use refrigeration during hot months.

If you’ve purchased bottles from several different wineries and want to ship those, use a wine shipper like the ones listed below for temperature controlled shipping options:

If you’re worried your wine may not have been shipped properly, here’s an article to help you determine if your wine is bad.

Summary

We hope you find that collecting wine and bringing it home from your travels is a fun and rewarding adventure. It’s provided us great pleasure, especially the part when we share our finds with friends and family.

Cheers!











Authentic Wine Travel for Women: Free E-Course by KnowWines

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Recently, KnowWines founder Jolene read an article by Sarah Mikutel with this title: “Women don’t need to be in a crisis to travel.” Two points in the article resonated with Jolene right away. The first was that Americans have become enamored with busyness and the hustle, rather than authenticity and intentionality. The second was that women only find it acceptable to travel and spend time with our minds after we hit a “crisis.”

Mikutel found that if you ask most women who travel (including Jolene), they are actually not miserable or escaping a crisis. Women typically travel independently because we’ve reached a point in our lives where we’ve met their intrinsic human needs (physiological, love/belonging, and safety) and are seeking experiences to build self-esteem and self-respect, a lá Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.   

When seeking self-esteem and self-respect, we naturally seek mastery, independence, freedom, and competence, all of which lead to self-confidence. In addition to pursuing these higher-order accomplishments when traveling, we also love learning more about the pleasurable aspects of those basic needs — food, beverage, clothing, shelter, relationships. Traveling to wine country destinations affords ample opportunity for all these pursuits.

The world of women’s travel — and concurrently the world of wine — is rapidly changing.  Around 1% of business travelers were women 40 years ago. Today it’s 40%! The keyword search independent or solo female travel grew by 52% between 2016 and 2017. The average age of women adventure travelers is 47. Today, women are traveling more with friends or independently than with family. And more and more often, women are traveling to wine country. This makes sense — after all, women purchase 80% of wine for home consumption, and the GenX generation, which includes the most women travelers, purchases more wine per capita than Boomers or Millennials.  

With such a rapid increase in women travelers to wine country, the travel industry is working hard to keep pace. However, Jolene finds that much of the travel literature for wine country - from Napa Valley to the Rhône Valley - is out of step with current trends and still geared toward men (light on detail and heavy on top 10 lists and trophy experiences). When travel articles are geared towards women, it’s to younger women looking for more of a drinking experience than an intentional travel experience that incorporates tasting and other cultural activities. When articles about wine tourism take the art of winemaking seriously, they often go far to the other extreme, aiming at wine industry insiders seeking “super geeky” wine experiences that may not be well suited for one’s inaugural or second trip to wine country.

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Many women travelers prepare for trips meticulously, constructing Vision Boards or just writing out ideas about our ideal experiences. Rarely did Jolene find information out there that gave a holistic framework for wine country travel for the average woman adventure traveler. That’s why she created this free guide!

This course, Authentic Wine Travel for Women Over 40, is not a catalog of wine regions to visit. Nor is it a simple checklist for how to take the best tour of wine country. Instead, it’s a guide to making the most of your experience when you travel to wine regions. The goal of the course is to help you create a journey that is inspiring, deeply personal, and that, like a fine wine, will hold value for years to come.  

If the grape vine could speak, it would tell us that about 2000 years ago it tempted humans to take it and plant it in places it would thrive, which just happened to be some of the most beautiful and bucolic regions of the world. Because many wine-producing regions are naturally beautiful, one does not need to be a wine enthusiast to enjoy travel to wine country. The vines can simply serve as a beautiful backdrop to outdoor pursuits like walking, biking, or hot-air ballooning. But for the wine enthusiast, those vines, and what they produce, can inspire the woman traveller to learn the lore of the region and the personalities of the vignerons, and to experience new tastes, smells, and textures. This course endeavors to give you an holistic take on the myriad possibilities for growth, learning, and fun that wine country can provide the female traveler.