Friday, April 20, 2007

Winery Watch: Red Head Ranch

This is the fourth in a series of posts highlighting California family wineries. You might not be familiar with them--yet--but they produce wines that speak with the voices of this state's people, places, and history. They are worth seeking out. These posts will be longer than most posts on the blog, but I hope you will find them perfect for leisurely weekend reading and internet browsing. Have fun! To read previous posts in the series, click here.

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% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are blended with 25% Petit Verdot to produce a rich, full-bodied wine. Abundant aromas and flavors of cassis and coffee are accompanied by a distinctive note of pencil shavings that is more common to fine Bordeaux than New World wines. Unfiltered, this is an outstanding old-world style cabernet blend.

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.

Red Head Ranch also bottles Zinfandel (both Late Harvest and regular), Chenin Blanc, and Petit Verdot. I didn't taste these wines, but if you have please leave a note and let us know. Meanwhile, remember that gentlemen may prefer blondes, and perhaps even marry brunettes, but if you want to be where the grapevines are, stick to Red Heads.

Next Week: Vinum Cellars


Anonymous said...

Someday, Ky will allow wineries like this to ship into our state. Bluegrass and horses does not make up for lack of wine. In the meantime, I'll beg some of my favorite wine stores to start carrying a bit of this. Or rather, I'll beg some distributors I know. It's a twisted path. I think it always makes a different when you can meet the wine maker and understand some of their personality, which also goes into the wines.
I'm really intrigued though - being a red head myself. It's a great review and now I'm determined to try it!

Dr. Debs said...

Welcome, Michelle! It's good to see you here on the West Coast (even if just virtually!) They are great wines, and your begging will be rewarded if you succeed in getting some distributors to pick them up.

Sonadora said...

Dr.Debs, I'm really enjoying your profile series. It sounds like you were able to find some really operations at that Family Winemakers event. I've already tried something from Four Vines on your recommendation!

Dr. Debs said...

Sonadora, I'm looking forward to your tasting note on the Four Vines wine. I'll get to taste their 05s tomorrow at the Rhone Rangers tasting in LA. Which FV zins did you get? From your posting it looked like "Maverick"?

Sonadora said...

It is indeed the Maverick Dr.Debs. A 2004. I really enjoyed it. It's one of the many posts I need to write up! I never had a back-log like this before. I'm plugging away at them today though, just finished a LONG one on the blending event. Onto reviews for the afternoon I think, they take less time then writing up the tasting at wineries.