Paso Robles AVA
One of the Best Wines of the Year - Wine Enthusiast
Peter and Marilyn Ashkin formed a typically successful couple working in Silicon Valley for a number of years. Their location was in close proximity to Napa Valley and Sonoma County and the two found themselves heading North on many weekends to savor the wines and good foods that were available at practically every turn. After a number of years, they both realized that wine had become a passion for them both. They even dreamed of one day owning a slice of Napa Valley and growing grapes to sell to their favorite wineries. Then they found out just how expensive that land was, and changed their plans.
“One day I was reading through the classified section of my newspaper,” Peter Ashkin recently recalled, “and there was an ad for a parcel of land in Paso Robles that could grow grapes. We had never considered Paso Robles, in fact, the only time we had ever stopped there was to buy gas.” The Ashkins decided to get out and take a look at the area, and the result literally changed their lives.
“The first moment we saw Paso Robles and the property, we both looked at each other and said, ‘This is the place’,” Ashkin continued. That was in 1997, and right at the beginning of Paso Robles’ ascent to the ranks of high quality producing wine regions. People started coming into the area to buy land and build wineries, the wines made here improved beyond imagination, and the entire area started its rapid development. Today, most of the general public views the wines of Paso Robles as among the top wines in the entirety of California.” The Ashkin’s initial intent was to simply grow grapes and sell them to wineries, but a series of successes with one of their winery clients changed their minds. The client always held competitions at the end of the growing year and chose the best fruit for the “best grower of the year.” After winning the title two years in succession, Peter and Marilyn asked themselves why they didn’t start making their own wines. Push came to shove and the first three hundred cases of Redhead Ranch were produced in 2002. By the way, Marilyn Ashkin’s beautiful red hair served as the name choice for the winery. She also had a hand in developing the winery’s unique labeling, an art deco attempt at portraying color and elegance on the label. The winery’s initial releases were soon to meet with excellent reviews and raves from the press, facts that almost never occurred.
“Marilyn was against entering competitions where our wines would be judged by individuals,” Peter added. “She preferred to be judged by consumers who would cast their vote by repurchasing the wines. I was finally able to convince her that we should strive for a balance in the judging arenas. Fortunately, she came around to my way of thinking.” It is hard to believe that Redhead Ranch has grown slowly since its first release in 2002. This year, a total of around 1500 cases will be produced, making the winery a smallish entity even among the boutique-rich environs of Paso Robles. Most of Redhead Ranch’s wines are sold on premise, either through restaurants or by the winery itself. Unlike many other wineries, there is no tasting room at Redhead Ranch. The winery prefers to sell directly through the internet or through vehicles like the Gold Medal Wine Club. Sadly, Marilyn Ashkin passed away suddenly in 2008 from a rare cancer of the pancreas. Her presence in Redhead Ranch’s wines and labels is present each day in every bottle that is produced.
Winemaker Steve Glossner
With Red Head Ranch since its inception, winemaker Steve Glossner is considered an icon among the Paso Robles winemaking ranks. A Cornell graduate, Glossner became interested in wines at the Finger Lakes Region of New York. He moved to California and obtained an enology masters from Cal State, Fresno where he first encountered the Paso Robles growing area. As winemaker for the celebrated Justin Vineyards and later Adelaida Cellars and Halter Ranch Winery, Glossner became the region’s top-rated winemaker and consultant. Glossner owns his own wine company, PasoPort Wine Co., a business that produces and specializes in port-style wines. Glossner is considered by his peers as a premier winemaker, particularly in reds and blends. He combines many old world wine techniques with a more modern approach, attempting to find a level ground for his wines.
Peter Ashkin has carried on at Red Head Ranch in his late wife’s absence with flying colors. Trained as an electrical engineer at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ashkin started drinking wine at the age of thirteen. When he and his wife came west to work in the burgeoning high tech commerce of Silicon Valley, Ashkin worked for the likes of Hewlett-Packard, Apple Computers and America on Line to name a few. His passion for wine developed and finally manifested itself in Paso Robles as Redhead Ranch.
‘I refer to myself as ‘Mr. Fix It,’” Ashkin commented. ‘I have always had an appreciation for technology and how it could be applied to the vineyard and winery process.” Around the winery, he is referred to as the CEO or Chief Equipment Officer. Peter Ashkin sees himself as the person who will carry on Red Head Ranch’s dedication to extreme quality in the making of his wines. He points to the fact that he has a renowned winemaker in Steve Glossner, and ‘If you give a winemaker great fruit, he will probably make great wine.” He enjoys the fact that his vineyards are three separate microclimates and thereby allow him great flexibility in farming and ultimately making wines.
‘Part of our Cabernet blocks at the home vineyard weren’t picked until November this year, and the fruit was just fantastic. It was late hanging fruit and will ultimately make a great wine,” he added. Having been part of the computer and internet industry for many years, Peter has chosen to rely on the internet for much of his winery’s sales. Each order is monitored closely and any new customer orders are followed by an immediate query. He considers such an operation ‘the ultimate social networking tool,’ and believes it will become even more important in the future. Red Head Ranch itself is very much a family-type operation with most of the employees having been with Ashkin since he started the operation. He enjoys the everyday interaction working in the vineyards provides him, and hopes he will be able to do the same for many years to come. His immediate family is another matter for the personable Ashkin. His son has just finished at Yale, but has not yet indicated a willingness to follow his father into the winery business. Neither have either of his two daughters. Peter Ashkin admits to having his fingers crossed about the prospect of any of his children joining Red Head Ranch.
‘After all,” he reflected back, ‘My wife and I didn’t take the plunge until we were older. I don’t see why it should be any different for my kids.” Peter Ashkin is a refreshing and most unique winery owner who has chosen to stay small and produce marvelous wines. We salute him for his vision and perseverance.