We recently had the chance to sit down over dinner with the women behind the Robert Mondavi Winery, Vice President of Cultural Affairs Margrit Biever Mondavi and winemaker Genevieve Janssens to taste several wines from their renowned To Kalon vineyard. Ancient Greek for “the highest beauty,” To Kalon was originally planted in 1868 and today provides grapes for the winery’s top Cabernet Sauvignons and Fumé Blanc reserve.
Originally from Appenzell, Switzerland, Margrit Biever Mondavi has been a pioneering woman of the modern-day California wine industry. Mondavi met her late husband in 1967 while working as a tour guide at the winery that he founded in 1966 and turned into an iconic brand. She went on to to create a showplace for painters, sculptors, photographers, jazz and classical musicians and the great chefs and winemakers of the world, starting programs such as the winery's summer music festival, which has brought artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Harry Belafonte to Napa. "I had a dream to show wine with art, music, and food" she explained.
Janssens has also been a pioneer of the California wine culture. She grew up In her father’s vineyards, following him closely, listening and absorbing his philosophy. Geneviève’s formal wine education began under the tutelage of the legendary “three fathers” of modern enology – Jean Ribereau-Gayon; his son, Pascal Ribereau-Gayon; and Emile Peynaud – with whom she studied at the University of Bordeaux, France. After receiving her National Diploma of Enology 1974, she returned to her family’s vineyards in Corsica and France, which she managed from 1974 to 1977. Concurrently, she also owned and operated her own enology laboratory in Provence and served as consulting enologist to many French chateaux in the mid-seventies. Drawn to the Robert Mondavi Winery’s philosophy in winemaking and winegrowing, Geneviève moved to the Napa Valley in 1978.
From 1978–1979 she worked at the Robert Mondavi Winery as a lab enologist and an assistant enologist. Deeply interested in the winemaking revolution taking hold in the state, Geneviève continued exploring California for the next decade, holding several consulting positions.
Geneviève’s connection to Robert Mondavi returned in 1989, when she became Director of Production at Opus One Winery. Then, in 1997, she came full circle as the Director of Winemaking at the Robert Mondavi Winery. In 2000, she helped implement the To Kalon Project, the winery’s first major renovation since it was founded in 1966. The new To Kalon Fermentation Cellar allows Robert Mondavi Winery to make Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve and Oakville District Cabernet Sauvignon in a winemaking facility equal to its surrounding historic To Kalon Vineyard. “I wanted to be there for the construction, creativity and challenge,” says Geneviève. “We have created a new winery for our To Kalon estate, one of the most extraordinary vineyards on earth.”
What We Tasted:
The evening began with several vintages of Fumé Blanc. The name was Robert Mondavi’s invention; a salute to the elegant Sauvignon Blanc of France, Pouilly Fumé.
2012 Robert Mondavi Winery Oakville Fumé Blanc Napa Valley
The 2012 vintage is a classic for Napa Valley and excellent one for white wines. Following two cooler and wetter growing seasons, Vineyard Manager, Matt Ashby, calls 2012 a "walk in the park." A dry winter led to well-timed rain in March to saturate the soils and help fill the reservoirs. Warm days and cool nights endured through the growing season creating the perfect recipe for long, flavor-building hang time and optimal sugar to acid balance. The harvest began just before the Labor Day weekend and brought in good yields of vibrant, healthy fruit. The wine is lush with ripe fruit, subtle minerality and rich texture, great acidity with a slight nutty, oaky character.
2002 Robert Mondavi Winery Fumé Blanc Reserve To-Kalon Vineyard This older vintage showed beautiful depth and character, revealing the wonderful aging potential of these whites. According to Janssens “The 2002 vintage was a departure from regular blending. It is 24% Semillon with Sauvignon Blanc.” She continued, "It's a big wine, it's aging very graciously." The wine is intensely floralm with lots of minerality, llush trpoical fruits, and strong spice notes from old vines rooted in To Kalon terroir. There is some silky viscosity from the Semillon and a complex creamy finish.
2008 Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc Reserve, To Kalon Vineyard, The 2008 harvest was a small crop of very high quality fruit, although the months leading up to harvest were said to cause some grey hair among the vineyard staff. Drought conditions during the spring we followed by the worst April frosts in several decades, the team spent 25 sleepless nights protecting the vineyard. Fortunately the summer was more cooperative, resulting in an excellent ripening period. The resulting wine was fresh and bright with grapefruit crispness and minerality, with expansive aromas of verbena, melon, lemongrass and orange.
2001 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve The 2001 growing season experienced one of the longest bloom-to-harvest periods in recently history. A long hang-time on the vine resulted in particularly expressive and exceptional flavors in Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is deep, intense with dark fruit characters, with mineral, violet, and earthy complexity. Powerful and elegant.
2011 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, To Kalon VineyardThis vintage was the first to be prominently labeled with the To Kalon Vineyard designation. 2001 was also the year that the To Kalon Vineyard was named Vineyard of the Year by the California State Farm Bureau. This vintage is a stunner, with engaging aromas of cassis and early-season blackberries, dried herbsm violet, and great minerality. with a long lingering finish.
2001 Sauvignon Blanc Botrytis The noble rot, Botrytis cinera, is responsible for the great Sauternes of France and Tokaji of Hungary. The dry Mediterranean climate of Napa Valley is not particularly conducive for Botrytis to develop naturally so Mondavi creates their own Botrytis spores, encouraging growth with mist and warmth around the vines, and sprinklers at night. The wine is rich and opulent, with layers of orange marmalade, kumquat, caramel, and marzipan. The rich, honeyed sweetness is balance by perfect acidity.