Red Head Ranch, home to “Grandma” and other magnificent old vines, is the site of what some say is the oldest vineyard planting in Paso Robles. Located on gently rolling hills eight miles east of town, the property was planted in the late 1880s by Gerd and Ilsabe Klintworth with Zinfandel, Alicante Bouschet and Burger. The old vines were planted on their own roots using 10 foot x 10 foot spacing in the southwest corner of the property where Cripple Creek runs through it. The location benefits from the Templeton Gap influences, and as a result experiences the 40-degree day to night temperature differentials, which the vines love. When Peter and Marilyn Ashkin bought the ranch in 1997, the old vines were fodder for the deer, and Marilyn’s passion became the revival of these old vines. They are head-trained and for the most part dry-farmed, save when the daytime temperatures exceed 100 degrees. In 2000, cuttings from the old vines were grafted onto St. George rootstock. The young plants were used to fill in where plants were missing and to enlarge the old vine block, which now encompasses five acres. The yields are exceedingly low, but we’re happy to report that Grandma is now thriving and a part of Paso Robles history has been preserved!
Proponents of sustainable agriculture, the Ashkins also developed the rest of the ranch with plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Malbec. The Cabernet Sauvignon blocks, consisting of approximately 55 acres, were planted in 1998 and 2000 from nursery stock and offer ten combinations of rootstocks and “clones”. The vines are trained to a bilateral cordon in an interlocking-S pattern and are spur-pruned. The divided canopy with catch wires allows excellent light and air penetration and as a result, disease pressures are low. Red Head Ranch is a cooler site than many eastside vineyards and it is one of the last vineyards in the area to harvest Cabernet. Annual yields are fewer than 4 tons per acre. The Petit Verdot and Malbec blocks, 5 and 4 acres respectively, were planted in 2000. The vines are trained to a bilateral cordon on a VSP trellis and spur-pruned. These blocks are planted on fairly rocky soil and the resultant reflected light contributes to fruit of good color and ripeness. These younger vines are showing great promise, and so the Ashkins are continuing their quest for THE great Bordeaux blend.