Columns by John

John Brown has been a wine and food columnist in West Virginia since the 1980’s. His regular columns appear in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail under the title Vines & Vittles and in The State Journal - a statewide business weekly

The Greenbrier and Opus One

Opus One at The Greenbrier
Wine lovers will get a unique and tasteful opportunity to whet their respective wine whistles Easter weekend when the Greenbrier Resort showcases the renowned Opus One Winery. While the grapes for the wine are grown in Napa, the finished product is a collaboration intended to stylistically feature the influence of both Napa and Bordeaux.

For those of you who may not be aware, Opus One was the brainchild of Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild - two of the most legendary vintners of the 20th century. Rothschild was the owner of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, which is one of only five First Growth wineries in Bordeaux. Robert Mondavi was the respected founder of the winery in Napa which bears his name. While both men have since passed on, Opus One continues to produce highly sought after cabernet-based wines.

Opus One

Michael Silacci, winemaker at Opus One, will lead Greenbrier guests through two days (April 6 and 7) of tasting both current releases as well as older vintages of the wine. In addition, Greenbrier Executive Chef Rich Rosendale will prepare a multi-course meal on Saturday evening to match the wines.

Incidentally, Rosendale was recently the winner and recipient of the prestigious Bocuse d'Or award after a cooking competition in January at the Culinary Institute of America.

The weekend package, which includes two night’s lodging, a vertical wine tasting on Friday evening, dinner at Howard’s Creek Lodge on Saturday evening and a $100 resort credit, is $1410 for two or $1075 for single occupancy. There are also a limited number of ala carte tickets for both the Friday tasting ($85 per person) and the Saturday dinner ($250 per person).
This is a great opportunity to experience one of the world’s most storied wines. Call 888-781-0528 for reservations.
Opus One, Chili and Me
Opus One’s first vintage was 1979 and I can truly say that it had a profound effect on yours truly. I was on my first visit to Napa in the fall of 1981 that was the culmination of a rather interesting week for me and the coterie of friends who were in my party.

And believe me – party was the operative term.

Earlier that year I became the inaugural winner of the WV Chili Cook-off at Snowshoe Resort which continues to host the event annually. The International Chili Society sanctions the cook-off and my win entitled me to compete in the World Chili Championship held that year in Los Angeles at Hollywood Race Track.

While I did in fact cook chili that day, I can assure you of three things: I did not win, I did not drink wine and I don’t remember much else.

My attending sous-chefs included my long-suffering wife and two other couples who came along to participate in a skit that we were to perform in an attempt to win the “Best Skit” award at the event.

Our skit was entitled: “Hillbilly Chili – The Real McCoy,” and was a take-off on an old TV series “The Real McCoy’s.” For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it featured a family of goobers from Smokey Corners, WV who moved to California to set up dirt farming.

To put it mildly, the skit would not have been approved by the West Virginia Commerce Department as a way of changing widely held stereotypes of our beloved state.

I reprised the role of Grandpa McCoy (played in the series by a limping, whiny-voiced Walter Brennan) and my cohorts took on the personas of Luke, Little Luke, Pepino, Hassie and Kate respectively.

We had rehearsed the skit many times and felt confident that we would wow the judges with our acting skills and creative prowess. Alas, someone (me) forgot their lines and began to adlib. This completely screwed up the skit and left our audience of several hundred onlookers unamused and embarrassed for us.

Hillbilly Chili- 1981

With the failed World Chili Cook-off in the rear view mirror, we drove our van all the way up to the Napa Valley where we visited several winery tasting rooms and where we had a fateful visit at Robert Mondavi Winery.

One of my friends was a state senator at the time and through his influence we were actually met at the winery by Robert Mondavi himself who led us through a tasting of his impressive wines. At one point, we were ushered into a subterranean cavern where Mr. Mondavi pulled the bung out of an impressive looking barrel and extracted a deeply purple wine.

This was – in fact – the 1979 Opus One which was still being aged in barrels. We were privileged to be given a taste of this wonderful wine by the legendary winemaker.

While I had begun to make the transition away from beer and John Barleycorn to wine, tasting this glorious elixir was an absolute epiphany. It was a seminal moment and launched my life-long interest in the wonderful world of wine.

And I have chili to thank for it!
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