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Napa Valley’s Philip Togni Vineyard shines as winemaker Lisa Togni struts her stuff at Ocean Prime wine dinner


Ocean Prime, the upscale seafood and steak-themed “supper club,” has a killer patio, a buzzworthy bar and sits on a choice corner of Uptown Dallas. What I wasn’t expecting on a recent visit for a wine dinner featuring Napa Valley’s famed Philip Togni Vineyard was impressive, top-notch service from an attentive wait staff who anticipated our every need.

That crisp, intuitive service allowed winemaker (and winery co-owner) Lisa Togni, the daughter of founder Phil Togni, to take the ten of us attending the dinner down the rabbit hole of one of Napa’s top Cabernet producers. She’s been the voice of the vineyard for a few years, though with two small kids and a thriving winery, neither she nor her father travels much to promote their wines.

Everything about Togni’s two prominent wines — their namesake cabernet-based Bordeaux blend and the Tanbark Hill, made nearly entirely from cabernet grown in a dedicated two-block parcel — is done in small batches by just a half-dozen team members. Their wines are prized for their astonishing aging qualities, routinely improving in the bottle for two decades or more. Dark-fruited and oak-edged, they are plush and round and savory with a broad, ripe structure that telegraphs a Napa Valley connection to Bordeaux.

“All our fruit is grown on our 10 acres on Spring Mountain,” said Togni, as we sampled the 2014 Tanbark Hill then the 2011 and 2005 Togni cabernets paired with a goat-cheese-and-walnut-studded field greens salad, braised short ribs and sea scallops, and a tomahawk-cut Durok pork chop with kale and mustard. “We don’t buy grapes from anyone else, and we do everything by hand,” from planting to vineyard management to picking the ripe grapes when they’ve reached a sugar content of 25 brix.

“Our goal is to make a beautiful, rich, 14% alcohol wine, which means we pick at 25 brix,” said Togni. “Our yield is under three tons per acre” — less than most top producers in Bordeaux achieve — “which concentrates the fruit. We want very small berries with lots of skin relative to juice. That’s where our wines get that deep, dark color.”

Togni’s wines are some of Napa Valley’s best. But because the winery grows all its own fruit on just 10 acres of rocky, sloping, mountainside land, the wines can be hard to come by if you’re not on their mailing list or a busy restaurant with a savvy wine buyer.

(Monopole distributes Togni wines throughout Texas, but you’re likely to find them primarily in Dallas and Houston for now.)

“The same family has picked our grapes for 25 years,” picking about a ton per person per day beginning in mid to late September each year. “We cold soak the grapes for three to four days to extract the most intense red color possible, then ferment the grapes in French oak wood barrels, which is something only a small winery can pull off” due to the expense.

Togni’s vineyards are almost entirely organic — “we’ve never relied on many chemicals and next year we should be totally organic,” said Togni — “because we live in the Napa Valley and its the right thing to do.”

 

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