Tognetti, from grapes to wine

In the wine business one of the most important factors is location. The more specific that location, the better the wine, presumably.

For example, a California chardonnay would not be seen as desirable as a Napa chardonnay, and a single vineyard designated Sonoma chardonnay would be even more desirable than that. Not a hard and fast rule but as a general guiding principle this holds pretty true.

The king of these designations is called an American Viticultural Area (AVA) and is defined by certain guidelines set forth by the Tax and Trade Bureau.

Marin County has no AVA of its own. Parts of northwestern Marin belong to the huge North Coast AVA, which extends all the way up to Mendocino. The actual closest AVA to most of Marin County is the famous Los Carneros AVA, which spans the bottoms of both Napa and Sonoma counties. Take a left on Route 121 at Sonoma Raceway off of Route 37 and you are there.

Recently I caught up with Robert Tognetti, of the Tognetti Family Winery, whose family has operated a farm in the Carneros region since 1964, first as an orchard, and then beginning in 1980 as a vineyard, three years before the region received AVA status.

Q: After growing grapes for 30 plus years, why make wine now?

A: Starting a winery in the family name was always a goal of mine. A lot of my childhood was spent in Napa and I was always interested in the wine industry. I saw it as a great way to honor the family tradition that my father started with his vineyard. After growing grapes in the Napa valley for many years it was a natural progression from successfully growing to winemaking, allowing for the next and future generations to be involved with the family tradition and heritage.

Q: What wineries have used Tognetti grapes in the past and to make what wines), and what wineries use them now?

A: It’s always good to sell the grapes but it’s even better when they’re used in a great wine. It really speaks to the quality of the fruit and the hard work that goes into growing of the wine grapes.

Swanson Vineyards first bought our grapes to be used in their chardonnay. We developed a close personal relationship with their winemaker over the years and the relationship with them worked very well. Eventually they phased out their chardonnay program, but still continued to buy our grapes and resell them for a couple years.

The opportunity to sell the grapes to Schramsberg for their sparkling wines next presented itself. It was an opportunity to work with a highly respected sparkling house with a great history in Napa and a good reputation around the world. To this day most of the grapes grown on our vineyard are still sold to Schramsberg, where they are used in their Blanc de Blanc, J. Schram and even a special edition “Tognetti Vineyard” wine.

Q: What classic Carneros characteristics do your wines exhibit? What sets your wines apart?

A: Our chardonnay has the aroma our crisp citrus and sweet pineapple balanced by fresh baked bread and hazelnut. On the palate the refreshing citrus and sweet tropical notes return, which is typical of a Carneros chardonnay. What makes our wine unique is the blend of French oak barrels combined with Keith’s [Keith Hock, former winemaker for Rudd Estate, Saintsbury Winery and Schramsberg] minimalist winemaking style. The end result is a wine that has a depth of flavors imparted by the oak, but that doesn’t overpower the palate and still showcases the true characteristics of the fruit.

Q: What wines are you currently producing, and what wines do you plan to produce in the future?

A: We started in 2012 with chardonnay made with grapes grown on our family vineyard. We knew we wanted to start making a red wine soon after and in 2014 we started on our first cabernet sauvignon, which will be bottled in late 2016. Looking forward we will continue to make our chardonnay and cabernet and also have some other exciting varietals in the works.

Q: Finish this sentence: The family that makes wine together …

A: Creates tradition and a family heritage for generations. Our wine is meant to be shared with the people we love most.

Tognetti wines are available at the winery website ( to their club members, and at select Marin, Sonoma andNapa restaurants.