Vail wines: Lessons from Mondavi’s torchbearer |

Vail wines: Lessons from Mondavi’s torchbearer

Patricia KloehnVail, CO Colorado
Special to the Vail DailyGenevieve Janssens, director of winemaking at the Robert Mondavi Winery, grew up around vineyards in a family where wine was part of the daily fabric

Genevieve Janssens is a gracious woman and nationally acclaimed winemaker. She is the director of winemaking at the Robert Mondavi Winery. Her profession is her passion and her passion is explained: “Discover wine on your own, without prejudice. Use your heart and gut and feelings to learn about wine.”Janssens grew up around vineyards in a family where wine was part of the daily fabric. “We talked wine and winemaking issues at lunch and dinner, all the time,” she says. Her family’s vineyards were in Corsica and France. Janssens studied under three powerful figures of modern winemaking: Jean Ribereau-Gayon; his son, Pascal Ribereau-Gayon; and Emile Peynaud. From the Ribereau-Gayons she learned about the academic side of wine, science and chemistry. From Peynaud, she learned how to really make wine. “Peynaud had the most impact on me,” she says. “He gave tools for me to use everyday, like how to handle leaves, the wine press, the vat, and the pump. He was a cellar master himself and was self taught beginning at the age of thirteen.”Rather than follow her father in the family vineyards immediately, Janssens wanted to be on her own and for two years studied the soil. “The soil has two million years of history to convey. My advice for 20-year olds getting into this profession is to study the soil as well to understand wine, never stay just with wines, expand your knowledge by being in vineyards, understanding soil and winemaking science.” Janssens started working for The Robert Mondavi Winery in 1978 as a lab enologist. Her later contributions focused on implementing the To Kalon Project. Today the To Kalon Vineyard stands at 550-acres in Napa Valley and Oakville. “To Kalon” means “the beautiful” in Greek. Robert Mondavi himself described To Kalon as being a treasure with optimum sun exposure and annual rainfall combined with low fertility, well-drained, gravely clay loam soils. To Kalon’s superb grapes deserve sophisticated handling, Janssens says.The grapes are filled into tanks by gravity flow rather than traditional pumping. The To Kalon Fermentation Cellar, completed in 2001, is the largest wood fermenting facility in the world. Fermentation is done in wooden barrels rather than stainless steel.”The oak keeps the right temperature during fermentation rather than stainless steel which is so thin the outside air/temperature can become a factor difficult to control,” she says. A cooper is on staff to care for the barrels year round.For a woman who oversees 24-labels for the Robert Mondavi winery, details are at the forefront. “My father was very passionate about wine and I learned from him that you need to always mind the details and respect every aspect of winemaking. It doesn’t matter if a wine is $5 versus $200 or $1,000 – it is all the same, be dedicated and passionate about the details,” she says. In 2009, the French government honored Janssens as an Officer of the Ordre National du Merite Agricole. This award was earlier received by her great grandfather and grandfather. Genevieve was recognized for bringing the French and Americans together as the director of production at Opus One Winery, the iconic joint venture between Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. Janssens and her husband, Luc, are dedicated to helping the people of Laos. Luc set up a charitable organization in 1992, The Lao Rehabilitation Foundation, Inc. Their son, Georges, is organizing a world wine tour designed to collect 300 premium wine bottles from over 15 countries which will be auctioned off with proceeds going to the Lao Rehabilitation Foundation, establishing health care for the Laotians. For more information see says she couldn’t be happier about her son’s project.”Americans also have a different perspective of globalization,” she says. “They accept wines from other countries without prejudices. This is a beautiful thing.”Patricia Kloehn lives in Edwards. She is a currently taking the diploma course for the WSET school in London (wine, spirit, education & trust), which is the precursor to the master of wine program. E-mail her at

Support Local Journalism