Ready to gallop

Andrew Tow with a portrait of Mr. Burgess, the horse that inspired a vintage.
Andrew Tow with a portrait of Mr. Burgess, the horse that inspired a vintage.

Andrew and Kathleen Tow have a passion for wine and a passion for horses.

“My wife loves, loves, loves, loves horses,” Andrew says. She and their two daughters – the couple also has a son – ride many times a week, and Kathleen has done quite well in local and regional dressage competitions.

So it was not surprising that they would draw on equine inspiration for their label, The Withers. It’s named for the highest point on a horse where height is measured.

“We aspire to the heights of winemaking,” Andrew says. “We know who we are. We know what we can do. I believe there is nothing near us at this price point ($20-$42).” Except for The Withers Rosé, known simply as Rosé, all their wines are named after horses they have owned.

I tasted a few of The Withers’ first available commercial bottles with Andrew in his Pound Ridge home. All these wines were elegant, with structure and concentrated flavor. From first sip to last taste, they all held up well in the glass. All of the fruit used in Rhône varietals and the Rosé are sourced in the cooler climate Sierra foothills. Grapes from cooler climate areas don’t attain the high sugar levels of warmer areas. This makes for a lower alcohol, food-friendly wine.

We first tasted recently bottled 2013 Rosé, made of 56 percent Mourvèdre and 44 percent Grenache. Lightly and attractively peach-colored, it had lovely floral quality with light citrus and distant strawberry flavors, balanced with a fresh and lively acidity. At $20 retail, this wine is a treat. Our next three wines were red Rhône varietals also sourced in the Sierra foothills, the first being 2010 Bel Canto. This wine consisted of 52 percent Grenache, 42 percent Mourvèdre and 6 percent Syrah and retails for $34. It showed great fruit, ripe raspberry with a lovely spiciness and finely ground white pepper all held together by a balanced acidity.

“We use neutral oak to age our wines. Our fruit is top quality and we don’t manipulate the wines. Our fruit speaks for itself,” Andrew says.

Next we tasted the $34 Ruben. At 72 percent Mourvèdre and 28 percent Syrah, it showed dark fruit with a textural dustiness. We found dark cherry flavors with black pepper and a long satisfying finish. There is a lot going on in the glass. Then we tasted Mr. Burgess, named for the horse pictured on the label. It is made from 90 percent Syrah and 10 percent Mourvèdre and retails for $42. It showed beautiful, lush fruit, dark cherry and a big and balanced peppery component which supports structure, length and contemplation.

Andrew did not set out to be a commercial producer of wine. He grew up in northern Westchester, finishing freshman year at Hamilton College in the bucolic and agricultural world of upstate New York. Feeling like he had not yet found his home, Andrew packed up and went west. He settled in Vail, Colo., where he skied and worked in the restaurant industry. There a lifelong passion was born.

Recognizing Andrew’s interest in wine, the owner of the restaurant invited him to take part in tastings with wine sales reps and producers. Andrew quickly became the restaurant’s wine guy. Fast forward through the decades: He settled back in the New York area with a successful career in the media and telecommunications industry and a marriage of 26 years to Kathleen. A trip to California took their passion for wine to a new plateau as they sampled many vintages from around the state.

Then they met David Low, owner and winemaker of Anthill Farms Winery, which specializes in making wines from highly rated, cool climate Pinot Noir and Rhône varietal grapes, including Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache. The Tows loved Low’s elegant and unusual wines and offered up a deal: “You teach us to make a couple of barrels of wine, and we will take you to Montana and teach you fly-fishing.” Low couldn’t resist and with no one knowing it, Andrew and Kathleen had entered the wine industry.

The couple picked the grapes, brought them to the winery, assisted with the crush and learned about fermentation, racking, oak-barrel aging and bottling. Tasting the wine through the various steps, they were convinced they were creating a food-friendly wine they and their friends could enjoy. They opened label-less bottles at their house for friends and offered tastes to sommeliers in local restaurants. Everyone agreed this wine was delicious and unusual by California standards, and some restaurants and wine store owners told them they could easily sell this wine. The passion grew.

Today, The Withers’ wines are distributed by Michael Skurnik Wines in the tristate area. They can be found at Zachy’s in Scarsdale and The Wine Connection in Pound Ridge, among other places. Or you can order them online at thewithers.com.

These wines are brand-new in the marketplace and should age beautifully. Production is small and any winery growth is expected to be meticulous and slow, with Andrew always insisting on quality over quantity.

“We always want to make great value wines. We want our wines to be food-friendly, not overwhelming or underwhelming the food. And we always want to over-deliver.”

Get them while you can.

Write me at Doug@dougpaulding.com. 

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