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Grape Expectations

Beginning vintners get a behind-the-scenes tour of Napa Valley's Robert Mondavi Winery.

The McGlones (right) sipping fumé blanc (Jenny Pfeiffer)
Fermentation tanks at Napa Valley's Robert Mondavi Winery (Jenny Pfeiffer)

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Beginning vintners Tom and Gena McGlone, of Granger, Ind., had been buying cabernet grapes from California for two years to produce their first vintage, but they'd never seen the source. So Robert Mondavi Winery, one of Napa's most established vineyards, decided to give Tom and Gena, and their traveling companions Paul and Carolyn Kelly, of Ocean City, Md., a customized tour walking them through the wine-making process.

Before taking the couples to the fermentation room, their guide, Inger Shiffler, led the McGlones and the Kellys to a typically off-limits section of the vineyard, where Mondavi's oldest vines, used to make a reserve fumé blanc, grow. The group sampled some of the grapes—"They were so much smaller and sweeter than I expected," says Gena—and then sipped the wine created from them.

The four-hour tour included a tasting of two reserve cabernets and a three-course lunch with pairings in the private dining room. Even with a seat directly overlooking the vineyard, Gena was far more impressed with the view to her right: "Mrs. Mondavi was at the next table!"

Many thanks to...
Robert Mondavi Winery, a U.S. leader in wine making and education since 1966. The company runs tours, tastings, and seminars (888/766-6328, robertmondaviwinery.com, guided tastings from $15, tours from $25).

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