Gentlemen may prefer blondes (though I've never been absolutely convinced about that).
But grapevines adore redheads. Or at least they adore this redhead, Marilyn Ashkin. (photo courtesy of Red Head Ranch)
I know this because I've tasted some of the wines from the Red Head Ranch portfolio, and they are astonishing. It's rare to taste wine and still be able, weeks afterwards, to remember what struck you so forcefully about one producer's wines. But I can remember exactly what blew me away about Red Head Ranch wines at the Family Winemakers Tasting in March: they have elegance, silky texture, powerful flavors, and balance. Think Rita Hayworth. Can you see her in your mind? OK, Red Head Ranch makes Rita Hayworth wines.
When I met Marilyn, she was standing proudly behind her lineup of wines, with her son at her side. She had a quiet dignity that I think is linked to the enormous respect that she has for the wine she makes, and the people who make it with her. At the tasting, she was the first to give credit to her consulting winemaker, Steve Glossner, for his skill. And on the website, the members of the Red Head Ranch family are highlighted, and their individual contributions noted, from her husband Peter (the CEO or "Chief Equipment Officer), to business partner Leon Chen, manager Darrel Heirendt, supervisor Rodrigo Lamas, and vineyard workers Leopoldo H. Mendez and Leopoldo Mendez, Jr. This is truly a modern family winery--in the very best sense.
Peter and Marilyn bought the Red Head Ranch in Paso Robles 1997, becoming custodians of historic vineyard properties that date back to the 1880s. One of Marilyn's passions is the care and feeding of "Grandma," one of the vines that remains from those first plantings which she tended and brought back to flourishing life. Since then, the Ashkins have been able to purchase the Beckwith Vineyard in 2001, and to partner with Leon Chen at the Old Bailey Vineyard.
Red Head Ranch's wine making philosophy is apparent from the moment you visit their home page. They think the essential ingredients of their wine are: passion, quality, perseverance, excellence, community, family, sharing, history, and fun. What a great way to express what you do, and what you think is important. And it's a philosophy that I can embrace with enthusiasm. They seem to practice what they preach, too. Never have I seen such happy faces in a vineyard photo album--even during the hard but rewarding work of harvest and crush. (photo courtesy of Red Head Ranch)
On to the wines. The 2004s I tasted, and which are reviewed below, are Red Head Ranch's third bottlings. Currently, Red Head ranch is selling these wines in multiples of 3 bottles through their online store. Clicking on any of the wine names below will take you to the appropriate page in their store, where you can learn more. Red Head Ranch also has a wine club, which would enable you to get a half-case sampler every six months at a reduced, members-only price. Of course, if you want to try their wines you can also heckle your local store to carry them--I'm lobbying my local shops, I assure you!
2004 Red Head Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon ($29). I loved this wine--and at the price it represented excellent QPR. 75%
2004 Red Head Ranch R3 ($24). An intriguing blend of three varietals: Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec. The amazing thing is, you can taste all three! This is a blend with brains--not a single blurred or mushy note mars it. Red fruit aromas turn into a cascade of plum, cassis, and smoke. Excellent QPR for this easy drinking red, which is again marked by a lovely silkiness of texture.
2004 Red Head Ranch Pinot Noir ($28). No, I did not type Pinot Noir by mistake. Paso Robles Pinot? A relative rarity, but Red Head Ranch proves it can be done! Pinot Noir is a showcase varietal for Red Head Ranch's ability to make silky, elegant, and balanced wine. Here the flavor profile is dominated by cherries, with notes of mushroom, earth, roast coffee and cocoa to keep the wine interesting. Excellent QPR on this complex pinot charmer.
2004 Red Head Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon Old Bailey Vineyard ($40). This outstanding young cabernet is made entirely of Paso Robles fruit from the Old Bailey Vineyard, where the varietal is Leon Chen's passion. That passion shows in this wine, with its bright red fruit aromas and flavors accented by cocoa and dark chocolate notes. This is still a young wine, and needs some time to settle down and show to its full potential. I suspect this will grow into a signature wine for the Ranch, one that has great balance with that distinctive RHR silkiness and finesse. Only 150 cases were made of this very good QPR cab, that would certainly qualify as a special occasion wine.
Next Week: Vinum Cellars