Tonti Family Wines
Sonoma County region
One of newest up-and-coming wineries in the region
When Peter Tonti was growing up, his father allowed his family the luxury of enjoying with their meals, three fingers worth of red wine that he had produced with his hand-cranked wine press in his basement. The daily event made a strong impression on Ohio-born Tonti, now the owner of Sonoma County’s Tonti Family Wines. His father was originally from Forlì del Sannio, a small village in Italy’s Abruzzo region. Residents of the village have extreme longevity and have been examined by the World Health Organization. Tonti’s father lived to be 97, and other relatives existed to be 99 and 105. Local residents credit the region’s red wines for their prolonged existence.
“Wine has been an integral part of my life since I can remember,” recalled Tonti during a recent interview. “My family moved to California when I was twelve and I have been exposed to wine and the wine country since that time.”
Tonti’s business career centered on real estate development and during his business career, a number of opportunities to enter into the wine industry presented themselves. According to Tonti, none of the proposals seemed to fit his aspirations. At one point, he did a favor for someone in the business, a winemaker named Gus Gamba. The pair met and exchanged ideas about the wine business in general.
“Then, I lost touch for several years with Gus,” Tonti further explained. “We reconnected years later and he remembered the favor. We talked and he asked if I was still interested in the wine business. Our talk was productive and that was the beginning of Tonti Family Wines. I was totally impassioned about the fact that I was finally able to be getting into the wine business with someone I respected.”
The company’s first release came in 2015 with the release of 1,720 cases. After an excellent initial response, Tonti Family Wines continued its progress. Fruit is produced from a vineyard that was planted sometime in the early 1900’s. The location is on the eastern edge of the Russian River Valley that features gently rolling bench land just above the valley floor. Zinfandel is the principal varietal and the plot’s longevity assures it produces Old Vine Zinfandel status. Yield from these venerable plants is small, ranging from one-half to one ton per acre (normal yields are around two tons per acre or more).
Tonti Family Wines farms the vineyards organically and relies solely on rainwater for irrigation.
“Such action keeps the tonnage low, but actually does the vines a favor,” remarked Peter Tonti. “The fruit clusters achieve a wonderful concentration and the meso-climate that exists on the Fulton bench land (the actual location of the vineyard) provides enough heat to fully ripen the grapes and also offers sufficient natural cooling influences for optimal hang time and maturation. Everyone knows that great wines begin with great fruit and that’s exactly what happens here in our vineyard.”
Tonti Family Wines is a small operation and Gus Gamba (Gamba Vineyards and Winery) serves as the consulting winemaker. Gamba is the sixth generation of his family to work as a winemaker and has earned multiple plaudits for his wines. Interestingly, Gus Gamba’s relatives originated from the small village of Millesimo in the footshills of the Swiss Alps, only 500 miles from Peter Tonti’s grandparents.
Peter Tonti has been elated with the success his wines have enjoyed both in trade periodicals and in competitions. “It is significant for a small winery to receive such credit,” he observed. “The competition is incredibly severe and all we have going for us is our great fruit and wines. It is truly special when one of our wines gets a great number or wins a medal in competition.”
Tonti Family Wines currently produces around 500 cases annually, a figure that appears to be fixed for the present time. An additional label serves a different artisan level of wines while Reserve status is kept for the company’s special wines. All wines are made at nearby Pellegrini Wine Company, a Sonoma County facility noted for its excellent facilities and production.
One thing remains for Peter Tonti to accomplish. His daughter Emily is currently a project coordinator for a wedding planning company in California. “I am hopeful that Emily will follow in my footsteps and keep our wonderful little wine operation going for as long as possible. She is extremely capable at what she does and I know she would be very successful. After all, our company is named Tonti Family Wines, isn’t it?”
Map of the area
Dear Platinum Wine Club Members,
My interest in winemaking began in the 1940’s when I was just a kid, watching my father, an Italian immigrant, make wine with a hand-cranked press. We turned out about a half-dozen barrels from our home’s basement. The fruit was grown on an arbor in our backyard in Columbus, Ohio. I don’t even remember the varietal, but we liked drinking it and drank a small glass with our dinner each evening.
Today, our vineyard partnership affords us access to an extraordinary patch of land. The vineyard where our grapes are grown rest on the eastern edge of the beautiful Russian River Valley appellation, on gently rolling benchland above the valley floor. Our Russian River appellation location not only provides the ideal soil composed of stony ancient volcanic ash, but also an excellent overall climate for wine grapes. Warm days and cool nights, and light breezes from the Pacific, all have positive affects on the growing season. The day-heating and night-time cooling cycles play an important part in why Northern California is a world-renowned wine producing region.
Planted to Zinfandel in the early 1900’s, the Vineyard consists primarily of Old Vine Zinfandel, as well as small separate blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyards enjoy views north into the Russian River Valley. To the northeast, stands the majestic Mount St. Helena. To the west, are rolling vineyards to the foothills that are the home of the giant Redwoods, with the Pacific Ocean beyond. On clear, less foggy days, the top of Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, just north of the San Francisco Bay, can be seen in the distance.
Peter M. Tonti,
Dear Platinum Wine Club Members,
Our story starts with my dad Michael back in Columbus, Ohio. As an Italian immigrant, he brought his love for making wine with him from the old country. As a boy, I remembered him making wine with an old hand cranked press and a half dozen barrels in the basement. He wasn’t producing all that much, but he made sure we always had 3 fingers of wine with our dinner, every day. I refer to this on my back label.
Today, I’m honoring my father’s vision and my lifelong dream with Tonti Family Wines. Thanks to the help of some great vineyard owners and winemakers, this offering, the 2013 Tonti Family Reserve Old Vine Zinfandel from the Russian River Valley, has already exceeded our wildest expectations.
This wine was aged in American oak barrels for 18 months. Since its bottling, only 333 cases in July, and its release to the public in August, it has been awarded 94 Points – Exceptional from Beverage Testing Institute, and 92 Points from Anthony Dias Blue.
Our vineyards have been maintained with loving care by the same Italian family for six generations. Great wine starts in the vineyard, where these 100-year-old roots rest on the eastern edge of the beautiful Russian River Valley on gently rolling bench land above the valley floor, where they are bathed in sunshine during the day with cool nights.
This wine is being enjoyed from New York to California and from Florida to Washington State. I trust you will enjoy it as well.
Best wishes from the Tonti Family,
Peter Tonti, Founder
Tonti Family Wines