Geneviève Janssens learned early that the secret to winemaking success is to focus on quality. In her father’s vineyards, she followed him closely, listening and absorbing his philosophy. “My father believed that no matter what the conditions, you will survive by having the best quality, nothing else,” she declares. Seeing her father’s business succeed in difficult times, when others failed, convinced her that he was right.
Born to a French family in Morocco and raised in France, 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. She recognized in Robert Mondavi her father’s holistic approach to quality. “It starts with the earth, the legacy of what we have received from our ancestors and what we are going to leave for the future generation,” she says. “We must work to maintain the land, to grow so that we all live in symbiosis: the earth, the vines, the people – care creates quality.” From 1978–1979, she fully absorbed this philosophy, working 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.”
With her unique background, Geneviève brings a different sensibility and culture to the Robert Mondavi Winery’s winemaking team, with whom she meets regularly to taste wines, discussing style and vision. They also collaborate with the winegrowing team. “The winemaking and winegrowing teams are really one team,” she explains. “We have the same mission—to produce wines of great density and rich fruit character, wines of elegance and finesse that complement food. In this way, we combine the structure of the finest French wines with powerful fruit, California-style.”
Geneviève considers herself lucky to have a job she loves and sees little need of hobbies. But when not engrossed in her work at the winery, she does enjoy cooking. “But I can never make the same thing twice,” she warns. “I have a spontaneous imagination—if you liked the dish, I’m glad, but you’ll never taste it again!”
For Geneviève, carrying on the legacy of her beloved mentor, the late Robert Mondavi, is both a joy and an honor. “With our To Kalon Cellar finished and the new vineyard projects underway, this is an exciting time for the winery, and for me,” she says. “I am proud to be the torchbearer of Mr. Mondavi’s vision.”
In 2009, the French government honored Geneviève as an “Officier” of the The Ordre National du Mérite Agricole, which was established in France in 1883 by Minister of Agriculture Jules Meline to reward services to agriculture. Geneviève lives in Napa Valley with her husband Luc and her two children, Gabrielle and Georges. She became a US citizen in 1985.