Philip Togni Vineyard

Blue Blood Napa

Philip Togni’s rise to the top began, fittingly enough, in Bordeaux when he gained a spot in the University of Bordeaux’s inaugural Diplôme National d’Oenologie. He studied under the legendary French enologist Émile Peynaud while working alongside Alexis Lichine of Château Lascombes. After three years in France and in search of a new challenge, Togni moved to the Napa Valley, firstly cutting his teeth at Napa’s leading wineries, Mayacamas, Inglenook and Cuvaison before, in 1968, taking a post at Chappellet in St Helena.

Togni’s time at Chappellet cemented his reputation amongst the Napa elite. In his second vintage, he made a Cabernet Sauvignon that has become a legend in Napa circles. As Antonio Gallonic wrote in 2014, “Philip Togni was just a young man when he made the 1969. He could have retired immediately and still left behind an incredible legacy.”

By 1975, Togni and his wife Birgitta were able to purchase their own estate. To the surprise of many, he chose to plant on the eastern slope of the Mayacamas Range in Spring Mountain, Napa Valley’s coolest and wettest region. Togni had judged, correctly, that this terroir, perched high above the fog line—where the elevation and cooler climate contribute to longer growing seasons and slower ripening—would enable him to grow and make the kind of wines to rival the depth and complexity of his beloved Saint-Estephe.

The estate’s 10 hectares of vines face east, and enjoy the warm morning sun with limited exposure to the harsh afternoon rays. Influenced by an early visit from Paul Pontallier of Château Margaux, the site’s makeup is 82% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Merlot, with a little Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Large oak trees and Douglas Firs surround the property, providing shelter and a sense of isolation not often found in Napa. The slopes are steep, the plantings terraced, and the soils rocky with weathered sandstone and shale. Farming is organic and highly involved. “We spend 75% of our time in the vines,” Togni explains. The 33-year-old vines are dry-farmed, and the winery—like Philip’s house on the property—is solar-powered.

After years spent working abroad in Australia, Bordeaux and Burgundy, Togni’s daughter Lisa returned to work with her father in 2000. And though he’s now well into his ninth decade, with over 70 vintages under his belt, you can’t keep Philip Togni out of the vines and the cellar. Together, they make three wines: Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon, a second label called Tanbark Hill, and a tiny-batch sweet red inspired by the South African Cape’s famed Vin de Constance.

The style of wine here hinges on elegance, refined structure and great ageability. Yields are kept low, and canopies are managed diligently to ensure full ripeness is reached at low alcohols. They pick early to preserve natural freshness, and the grapes are co-fermented to reinforce and heighten the expression of the site. The Tognis are fussy about their use of oak and have travelled to France to personally select their forests and coopers. They favour thicker staves, use barrels only twice and rarely deviate from their 40% new-oak sweet spot. The Cabernets are closed by 48mm premium corks, which “cost a fortune”, but no corner is cut here, and high-quality, non-permeable cork is a critical component of the wines’ longevity.

Today’s Napa is a world away from the sleepy farming valley that first greeted Philip Togni when he arrived in 1959. Yet, at this iconic estate on Spring Mountain, time has moved much slower. Same vines, same slopes, same varieties, same family and the same thrilling wines. Lisa Togni sums it up best: “It’s a beautiful piece of land. We have a connection and a continuity here. We’re just trying to show this one site in our wines; it’s really that simple.”

Currently Available

Philip Togni Vineyard Ca' Togni Sweet Red 2013 (375ml)
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Philip Togni Vineyard Ca' Togni Sweet Red 2013 (375ml)

Philip Togni’s first interaction with sweet wine was in 1946. Hitchhiking back to London from Venice, he carried a two-litre flagon of sweet fortified white wine for the journey. Fast forward to the 1980s, and Togni is planting his home site in the Spring Mountain District when he runs out of Cabernet vines. Rather than order more, Togni decided to plant the last 39 vines to a little-known Muscat variety called Black Hamburg. With it, he’ll make a sweet red wine to rival the famed Vin de Constance of the South African Cape. At less than a half-acre, Togni’s vines were Napa’s only planting of the variety. Its susceptibility to Pearce’s disease, alas, sealed the small plot’s fate, and after many attempts to salvage it, the decision to replant to Cabernet Sauvignon was made. So, this is one of the last releases of a piece of Napa Valley history. The grapes are harvested very late in the season when the fruit is very ripe (19.4 Baumé in 2013), often shrivelled on the vine. The fruit macerates for about seven days to give colour and is then pressed. The wine is aged in very old oak barrels for just under a year before bottling. The final residual sugar clocks in at 329 g/L and the alcohol at 14%.

“The 2013 Ca'Togni is one of the finest editions of Togni's Black Hamburg dessert wine I have ever tasted, maybe the very best. Apparently 2013 was an exceptional vintage for Togni across the board. Unctuous, deep and concentrated, the 2013 offers tons of intensity in its hard candy, floral, savory and tea infused flavors. All of the beguiling, exotic notes typical of Ca' Togni are amped up in the exquisite 2013.”
94 points, Antonio Galloni, Vinous
Philip Togni Vineyard Ca' Togni Sweet Red 2013 (375ml)
Added
Philip Togni Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
Added

Philip Togni Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

The Philip Togni estate vineyard is in the Spring Mountain District AVA, just northwest of the town of St. Helena on the western side of the Napa Valley. Sitting on the eastern slope of the Mayacamas Range, it’s the coolest and wettest region in the valley, partly due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean (50 kilometres) and San Pablo Bay (40 kilometres). Conditions on Spring Mountain are further moderated by aspect and altitude; most of the region’s vineyards face east, avoiding the harsh afternoon sun, and the steep terrain can reach as high as 800 metres. The east-facing, organic, dry-farmed 10-hectare Togni plot lies high up on the mountain itself, above the fog line at just over 600 metres. Surrounded by oak trees and tall Douglas Firs, the site was first planted in 1981 to Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Following a conversation with friend and Bordeaux legend Paul Pontallier, Togni decided to mirror the varietal plantings of Château Margaux at his own estate. The plantings now stand at 82% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Merlot, with the balance comprising Cabernet Franc (2%) and Petit Verdot (1%). The make-up of the wines reflects these plantings. It’s a steeply terraced site, home to old vines (33 years on average) in rocky soils of weathered sandstone and shale.Philip Togni Cabernet Sauvignon is made from estate fruit―the family has never purchased fruit, nor will they. “We know our site is special,” daughter Lisa explains. “We’re trying to make a wine that reflects this place.” In another tip of the cap to Bordeaux, Philip Togni’s preference from the outset has been to make wines more in the mould of Saint-Estèphe rather than Saint-Julien; in each given season, he and Lisa seek to emulate the longevity, rugged character and definition found in those wines. “That’s what we set out to do, and with a few tweaks, it seems as if that’s what we have achieved.”The 2018 season was a classic at this estate, producing elegant, detailed, site-true wines. The fruit was picked in the third week of September with potential alcohol between 13 and 14%. The grapes were sorted, gently destemmed, crushed, and cold soaked for three days. After 20 days’ co-fermenting, the wine was pressed to French oak (40% new Taransaud and Nadalie). The wine was bottled in August 2020.

“Taking lots of air to show at its best, the 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate is a brilliant, classic, age-worthy wine from this great estate. It certainly shows the more structured, vibrant style of the 2018 vintage with lively acids, yet it has utterly classic Cabernet crème de cassis and almost blue fruits as well as Bordeaux-like notes of lead pencil, cedarwood, tobacco, and assorted floral nuances. Medium to full-bodied on the palate, it brings rock-solid intensity, perfectly ripe yet building, firm tannins, and again, the vintage's freshness, purity, and elegance. It reminds me of a top Saint-Julien and classic, old school, structured Cabernet that will reward bottle age. It needs 7-8 years to hit maturity (it's approachable today with a healthy decant), and I have no doubt this will be a 30- to 40-year wine.”
97 points, jebdunnuck.com
“Philip Togni’s Cabernet Sauvignon is an instant classic in the phenomenal 2018 vintage. Leading with its characteristic black-toned fruit, dusty graphite, green tobacco, and masterfully integrated cedarwood spices, it turns a surprising corner on the palate, leaning into the freshness of the vintage, with a medium-bodied palate and layers of velvety textured red and black fruits intertwined with cigar box, sagebrush, and dried wildflowers.”
98 points, Jonathan Cristaldi, Decanter
“Medium to deep garnet-purple colored, the 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate offers up intense notes of crushed black currants, fresh blackberries and ripe red plums with hints of pencil lead, black raspberries, underbrush and unsmoked cigars plus a touch of tapenade. Medium to full-bodied, the palate delivers bold, crunchy black and red berry layers with a lively backbone and firm, grainy tannins, finishing long and energetic. 1,470 cases were made.”
96+ points, Lisa Perrotti-Brown, The Wine Advocate
“The 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate is sensual and polished. Bright acids lend energy as this super-finessed Cabernet opens in the glass. Crushed red berry fruit, cedar, rose petal and mint all open with a bit of coaxing. The 2018 is going to need a number of years to be at its very best. It is elegant, nuanced and simply impeccable, but also a bit reticent at this stage. Readers who are familiar with these wines know they need time to come into their own. If that is not possible, I suggest opening it well in advance, even a day or two.”
96+ points, Antonio Galloni, Vinous
Philip Togni Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
Added

“Time passes, but nothing much seems to change at this reference-point estate on Spring Mountain. Philip, Birgitta and Lisa Togni continue to make classy, elegant Cabernet Sauvignons in a super-classic style that rewards aging. These remain some of the most distinctive wines being made in Napa Valley.” Antonio Galloni, Vinous

“These remain benchmark mountain Cabernets, with decades of aging potential.” Joe Czerwinski, the Wine Advocate

“Togni was trained in Bordeaux, and there’s no question that he applies his classic winemaking style to the beautiful fruit he obtains from his Spring Mountain estate. I’ve been an enthusiastic purchaser of many of his vintages, starting in the mid-1980s and working right through most of the vintages of the 1990s. As impenetrable, backward and austere as they seem in their youth, these wines are guaranteed to be hugely successful after about 15-20 years of bottle age.” Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate

Primary Region

Napa Valley, California

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Owners & vignerons: The Togni family

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