Born into a winegrowing family who settled in Corsica, Janssens studied enology at the University of Bordeaux alongside Emile Peynaud and under the revered Jean and Pascal Ribereau-Gayon before forging a unique path of her own. In the mid-seventies she juggled managing her family vineyards, establishing her own oenology laboratory in Provence, and was one of the early “flying winemakers” consulting for properties throughout the region.
The boom of Napa Valley after the famous Judgement of Paris tasting did not prompt Janssens to make the move to Napa Valley in 1978 but rather, to take a tour of Robert Mondavi’s vineyard. “At the time, Mr. Mondavi was extremely known in Europe and in France, even before his innovations in the vineyard and the winery,” says Janssens. Female winemakers were a rarity, especially in Europe but less so in Napa Valley. “Through the years I realized that Mr. Mondavi had a wonderful mother, he respected her and was inspired by her. He was so sure that women are just as capable as men to run the show” remembers Janssens.
Consulting for wineries throughout California gave Janssens the necessary experience to return to Mondavi in 1989, becoming Director of Production at Opus One Winery and later helping to implement the To Kalon Project, a major renovation that helped highlight the wines of California’s most revered “cru”. The most memorable award of Janssens decorated career was the bestowal of the title of “Officier” of the Ordre National du Mérite Agricole, a highly ranked recognition by the French government. “The fact that I worked at Opus One and that I was mixing the two civilizations, helping to create something beautiful, that was part of the very honorific recognition. I was very emotional,” says Janssens.
Other than spending time with her children Gabrielle, a lawyer, and Georges, a researcher in the Netherlands, in her spare time she likes to cook for friends. One of her favourite recipes is boeuf bourguignon which she serves with her mother’s semolina gnocchi recipe. Never a conformist, Janssens likes to pair this with a sturdy Bordeaux or the Cabernet Reserve from Mondavi.
By Sara d’Amato