RMW: A Visionary Journey
Thursday, February 28, 5:15-6:45.m

By Karen Wright, Savvy Company

Moderator: Mark de Vere, Master of Wine
Panelist: Geneviève Janssens – Chief Winemaker, Robert Mondavi Winery

Top Highlight: Learning the history of the legendary To Kalon vineyard and tasting a magnificent example of the Cabernet Sauvignon that comes from that land.

Best Quote: “Making good wine is a skill, making fine wine is an art” – Robert Mondavi

Lessons Learned:

  • Insider tip: The wine labels originally featured three birds, representing Mr. Mondavi and his two partners. Today the label sports four birds, representing Mr. Mondavi and his three children.
  • Robert Mondavi (RM) was known for his passion and enthusiasm, and always pushed to achieve the next level.
  • RM invented the name Fumé Blanc to differentiate his quality dry Sauvignon Blanc from the cheap sweet versions available in California in the 1960s.
  • Great care is taken when picking the grapes destined for even the “entry” level RMV wine.
  • “Precision Winemaking” adds to the cost of the Reserve wines, but the attention to detail results in wines that are elegant, fresh with a pronounced length on the palate.
  • Pinot Noir is a grape and wine that particularly expresses its terroir.
  • To kalon means “the beautiful one” in Greek, an apt name for one of the most historic and iconic vineyards in Napa.


Guided by the unduly modest Geneviève Janssens, Mark de Vere enthusiastically shared with us the history, evolution, innovation and vision of the Robert Mondavi Winery. The wines selected took us on a tour of the three tiers of RMW wines:

  • Napa Valley RMV wines are quality wines made from grapes sourced and blended from a number of prized Napa appellations including Oakville, Stags Leap & Carneros.
  • Oakville District RMV wines use grapes sourced from the heart of the Napa Valley where cool evening temperatures slow down the ripening process, resulting in more complex and elegant wines.
  • Reserve RMV wines celebrate the full expression of the terroir; featuring rich, complex wines made from fruit sourced from specific and legendary parcels of land such as the Carneros and ToKalon Vineyards.

We began with a discussion and tasting of a signature varietal for RMW, Fumé Blanc. In the 1960s, Sauvignon Blanc was a cheap, sweet affair so RM differentiated his elevated quality dry wine by giving it a new name, Fumé Blanc. We tasted the 2017 Fumé Blanc, Napa Valley made from hand harvested grapes sourced from multiple prized Napa appellations including Stag’s Leap. The wine was fresh, bright and nicely rounded with lovely grapefruit notes; reflecting the care given even in the “entry” level RMV wine. We learned that grapes are picked only in the early morning cool to maintain the freshness and whole cluster pressed to avoid excess tannins. The 2015 Fumé Blanc, Oakville showed more texture and complexity, reflecting its terroir; but the star of the Fumé lineup was the 2016 Fumé Blanc, Reserve made from grapes source from two venerable vineyards, blessed on average with 35 old vines.

Mark introduced the term “Precision Winemaking” and “Precision Vineyard Management” to explain the approach taken with all the Reserve wines. For example, RMV relies on only two coopers to make the barrels destined for the Reserve wines. Instead of testing representative barrels, every barrel is tested throughout the Reserve winemaking process … adding to the cost, but also adding the control to ensure the highest expression of the grape.  For the Carneros Pinot Noir Reserve 2015, they wait until the fruit is perfectly and fully ripe, with a bright cherry flavour. The grapes and the weather are monitored hawkishly, as they only have one week of opportunity to harvest before the grapes go from being perfectly ripe to overripe and jammy. The result of all this attention to detail? Elegant, fresh wines with a pronounced length on the palate.

The finale was trying not one but three Cabernet Sauvignons, the wine RMV is perhaps most associated with.  First up, the Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2015. Though this Bordeaux blend is the somewhat more “humble” member of the family, this classic delivers lovely ripe, juicy flavor with just enough tannins to satisfy. We moved on to the Oakville, Napa Valley Cabernet where it’s use of higher quality grapes resulted in more “open” tannins and a wine that is more expressive of its terroir. Then, on to the big guns, the 2014 ToKalon Vineyard Reserve. So powerful. So delicious. The flavour goes on and on with a mouthwatering finish. The wine is made from grapes sourced from one of the best parts of the iconic ToKalon Vineyard, pressed in an old-fashioned basket press. Mark said that this wine is made to age 50-60 years and he felt it was a bit tight now and would be better in 10 years; but this lucky ticket holder was very happy to taste this elegant powerhouse today, here in Vancouver!