Senior editor James Molesworth will become Wine Spectator's lead taster for California Cabernet Sauvignon at the end of this year. He recently made a trip to Napa Valley and is posting dispatches from some of the region's top wineries. And don't miss our Q&A with James on his Napa Cab eureka moments, his scoring philosophy, and what he's up to when he's not tasting wine.
At 92 years young, and with 65 years of winemaking under his belt, it'd be easy for Philip Togni to kick back a little. But there he is, walking the vineyard and sitting in on a tasting as he and his daughter Lisa show me around the property atop Spring Mountain that has come to bear his name.
Togni has seen just about everything, working in Bordeaux in the mid-1950s before moving to California, where he caught on with the large Gallo operation in the Central Valley. From there he quickly dialed down in scale, working at the boutique Mayacamas in its debut '59 vintage, followed by stints at Sterling, Inglenook, Chappellet and Cuvaison.
At Cuvaison, Togni didn't like the main vineyard source they were using. "It was too hot a spot," he says. "So I searched around for some cooler spots, and that included Spring Mountain, which didn't even have the AVA back then."
When it came time for Togni to strike out on his own, he plumbed the same spot, buying a property atop the mountain. "Sure, I liked the fruit," he says. "And it was about all I could afford at the time."
Philip Togni Vineyard totals just 10.5 acres. With phylloxera encroaching soon after it was planted in 1981, Togni retooled, starting in '85 and completing the replanting process 10 years later. Lisa, 49, joined her father in 2000 after working a harvest at Léoville Barton in '96 and then a stint in San Francisco at what's now known as the Boisset Collection.
Under their guidance, the vineyard, planted to 82 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 15 percent Merlot, 2 percent Cabernet Franc and 1 percent Petit Verdot vines (and that's essentially the makeup of the final blend), has produced some of Napa Valley's most distinctive and ageworthy wines. "And that's one thing we haven't figured out the 'why' of yet," says Togni. "The longevity."
After tasting a few lots of the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon from barrel and a handful of recent vintages from bottle, Togni pulled out his 2001 and 1997 Cabernets. "In today's society, it's difficult to convince people to age the wine," says Togni after a sip of the '97. "But the benefits are there," he adds, nodding gently toward his glass.
While Togni hasn't put his finger definitively on the reason for his wines' longevity, I can't help but recall something winemaker Andy Erickson told me during my visit to Mayacamas. Erickson talked about "embracing" the tannins and acidity the mountain gives the wines. It seems as if, intentionally or not, Togni has done exactly that. And by doing so, the Tognis are quietly proving just how long the California wine game can be played.
WineSpectator.com members: Read James Molesworth's tasting notes from his visit with Philip Togni.