Andrew Tow, found and owner of The Withers Winery, wasn’t always a fan of California wines. Instead, he gravitated toward the more traditional wines of France and Italy. Here, he felt, the wines were more authentic, with hands-off winemaking methods, and resulting wines that are less about alcohol and texture but more of a celebration of real fruit. Now that he has his place in the California winemaking scene, his goal is to bring that “Old World” style to this “New World” regime. “The ‘New California’ is the ‘Old California,” says Tow. And so it is with his 2015 Peters Vineyard Pinot Noir: a California “classic” that expresses all the nuances that the land, the fruit, and the gentle hands of the winemaker has to offer.
Counoise is a rare varietal to find as a 100% bottle. It is a dark-skinned grape used primarily for blending, adding a slight peppery note to a wine when combined. It’s one of the Rhône grape varieties allowed in a Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine, where some producers will use up to 5% in their blend. Not a lot in the scheme of things. So, often, grape-growers will plant just enough to satisfy this need. But every once in awhile, you’ll come across someone with the patience to grow a few more acres, enough to source out to a vintner crazy enough to turn it into a 100% varietal wine. And patient and crazy they must be: Counoise is one of the, if not the, last grapes picked at the end of harvest; as a single-varietal wine it’s lack of tannins can lend itself to a flat flavor and flabby texture. But The Withers works with vineyard manager Ron Mansfield of Goldbud Farms, who produces some of the most critically acclaimed fruit in the region. Mansfield provides the patience while Tow and team provide the crazy. And guess what? It just works…
I recently had a week-long focus on Chardonnay. It’s a malleable grape in that the resulting wines have very little to do with the vineyard setting and everything to do with the winemakers choice during the winemaking process. I wish I had tasted The Withers Peters Vineyard Chardonnay in conjunction with that feature, as winemaker David Low implemented some unique choices when creating this wine — the result of which is pretty much unlike any other California Chardonnay you’re likely to try from the Sonoma Coast.
That being said, The Withers Winery also sourced these grapes from a unique location. And although the vineyard setting may have little to do with the resulting wines, there’s no denying that cool and coastal makes for some pretty special fruit. And so, to quote Jancis Robinson (again) “Wherever coastal fogs reliably slow down the ripening process, extending the growing season of this early ripening variety, and yields are kept in check, then California can produce some very fine wines indeed, with considerable Burgundian savour to them.” Such is the case with The Withers Peters Vineyard Chardonnay…
You can’t claim to make Rhône-style wines without at least one GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre) in your portfolio. Well, The Withers has not one, but three, each highlighting one of those core ingredients. A traditional GSM will always have more Grenache than either of the other two varietals, though exact percentages will vary from vintner to vintner (based on yields, the grapes’ flavors, and the resulting wines of each varietal before blending). The reason it’s called GSM is because that’s the order, from highest to lowest, of percentages of each varietal. But every once in awhile, a winemaker will mix it up. Again, this could be because of the success of certain grapes (or lack of it) during harvest; it could be that once all the individual wines were created, they just blended better “out of order;” or it could be that the winemaker is looking for a specific flavor profile in the blend. And so, I present to you, The Withers “GMS”… (more…)
The Withers Winery: a story of passion, perseverance, and people
“I never wanted to own a winery,” says Andrew Tow, and yet he also claims The Withers Winery as a passion project 35 years in the making. It’s a process that, through a series of fortunate events, both chance and purposeful encounters, and good old-fashioned hard work, has evolved as organically as The Withers wines themselves.