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Wine of the Week, Mother’s Day edition: Mother winemakers

A family affair: Elena Walch (center) and her two daughters, Karoline (left) and Julia (right), are a mother-daughter team making wine in Italy. (Courtesy Elena Walch)

WASHINGTON — It wasn’t that long ago women winemakers were fairly rare. But that’s all changed in the last couple of decades.

Today, some of the top winemakers in the world are women. In a salute to Mother’s Day, we take this opportunity to celebrate the moms who make some of the greatest wines out there.

Why the recent increase in women winemakers? Well, for a long time, past attitudes believed winemaking to be a man’s job: It was assumed that because tasks such as cleaning tanks and moving barrels were physically demanding, these tasks should thus be reserved for the realm of strong men.

But as technology advanced and machines were developed to do much of the proverbial and actual heavy lifting, women found it easier to break into the winemaking world.

And as for the mothers in the winemaking world, many look at each vintage as an opportunity to create something unique which, in my opinion, is similar to the rewarding patience of raising children.

So, in honor of Mother’s Day, I thought it would be appropriate to open a bottle this weekend — made by moms — and to raise a glass and toast moms everywhere.

Genevieve Janssens is director of winemaking for Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley. Janssens learned early on that the secret to winemaking success is to focus on quality. Born in Morocco and raised in France, she earned her National Diploma of Oenology in 1974 and returned to her family’s vineyards in Corsica and France, which she managed until 1977. Fascinated by Robert Mondavi’s philosophy in winemaking, Janssens moved to Napa Valley in 1978. After several other career opportunities in Napa Valley, she returned to the Robert Mondavi Winery in 1997 to assume her current role.

Her dedication to her two children, as well as her devotion to heading up one of the largest wineries in California, is remarkable, as is her dedication to the wine that started it all. The 2014 Robert Mondavi Winery Fumé Blanc Napa Valley is produced primarily with sauvignon blanc and just a touch of semillon. It sports a nose of zesty lemon and orange citrus scents. In the mouth, the juicy flavors of ripe peach, nectarine and fresh pineapple shine from beginning to end. The finish expresses fresh minerality and a pop of Meyer lemon that keeps the wine focused. A wonderful aperitif. $20

Elena Walch was a successful architect from Milan when she fell in love with Werner Walch, the proprietor of the Wilhelm Walch estate, which has been in his family since 1869. Her marriage took her to the vineyards of Alto Adige in Italy, where she eventually discovered her own knack for making wines of distinction and finesse. Soon, her two daughters, Karoline and Julia, joined their mother in the vineyard and the winery, where making chardonnay, pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, riesling, Gewürztraminer, pinot bianco and merlot is now a family affair. The 2015 Elena Walch Pinot Grigio Castel Ringberg from Alto Adige, Italy, is a stunning white wine. The nose has distinctive scents of peach and nectarine fruit and a touch of wet stone. The juicy mouthfeel sports flavors of peach nectar, ripe pear and citrus flavors. The bright finish displays a nice mineral undertone that allows this wine to stand on its own. You can also enjoy it with grilled fish and mild cheeses. $25

Sarah Fowler cut her teeth in the wine industry as a seasonal member of the Kendall-Jackson Winery staff during high school and college. This experience, as well as her relationship with chief winemaker Jed Steele, eventually led her from an art major in college to winemaker in Napa. Fowler joined Peju Winery in Napa Valley in 2006, where she now divides her time between making wines and raising three boys. Her passion for Bordeaux varietals explains the delicious 2013 Peju Winery Petit Verdot. This red beauty is produced from a grape known more for its blending qualities than as its own star. The nose is dominated by aromas of blackberry and raspberry with hints of tomato leaf. Powerful flavors of blackberry, black plum and dark cherry are supported by firm tannins in the mouth. Notes of roasted coffee and vanilla bean support the long elegant finish. $40

Marcia Torres Forno grew up in Chile, where she began her winemaking career in 1995 at Viña Cousiño Macul in Santiago. In 1996, Torres Forno came to the U.S. as part of the Communicating for Agricultural and Exchange Program. Her first winemaking job in California was as an enologist at Cardinale Winery in Napa Valley and then as assistant winemaker for Kendall-Jackson Winery.

In 2010, Torres Forno became the winemaker for Matanzas Creek Winery in Santa Rosa, which produces sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and merlot, among other varietals. She and her husband have two daughters and live in Knights Valley. Torres Forno is passionate about sustainable agriculture and organic farming practices. ­You can certainly appreciate her efforts in the 2012 Matanzas Creek Winery Knights Valley Merlot, where artisan winemaking and an excellent vintage come together to show how good merlot can be. It delivers aromas of blackberry, licorice, clove and red cherry on the fragrant nose. Excellent concentration and depth, the ripe flavors of blackberry, cassis, roasted coffee and cocoa are cheered on by fine-grained tannins. Notes of minerals, cherry cola and dark chocolate round out the long, beautiful finish. It begs for a hanger steak and French fries. $45


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