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Tasting the Wines of Fiddlehead Cellars with Winemaker Kathy Joseph

Fiddlehead Cellars has been an icon in California’s Central Coast region since its founding in 1989 by winemaker Kathy Joseph. Her now-famous Fiddlestix Vineyard began as dirt and has grown to be perhaps the premiere vineyard in this region, used for some of her own prized wines while selling its grapes to numerous other bottlers as well. (Fiddlehead’s Fiddlestix Sauvignon Blanc even makes a key appearance in the movie Sideways.)

At a recent dinner with Joseph at San Francisco’s Cassava, she spoke at length about the film, her winemaking — which now includes wines made from grapes in Oregon as well as the Central Coast — and her plans for the future which, you read it here first, include the sale of Fiddlestix to new owners Justin Willett (Tyler Wines), Erik Mallea and Todd Gray (Willett-Mallea Farming), and William Borgers. It’s the beginning of a new chapter for the gregarious Joseph — whose equally genial family appeared at the dinner to say hi — who brought a bevy of recent releases (showcasing the widely varying styles she makes her wines in) as well as some gems from her personal cellar to try. I took embarrassingly brief notes on all the wines tasted. Thoughts follow.

2019 Fiddlehead Cellars Pink Fiddle Rose of Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills – Slightly gummy, with strong orange peel notes. A fine start to the night, but not my favorite of Joseph’s wines. B+ / $30

2016 Fiddlehead Cellars Happy Canyon Sauvignon Blanc Santa Barbara – A slight herbal note, rich and enveloping. Great stuff. A- / $30

2019 Fiddlehead Cellars Goosebury Sauvignon Blanc Santa Barbara – Classic tropical character, bright with mango and tart fruit. A classic summer sipper. A- / $42

2012 Fiddlehead Cellars Hunnysuckle Sauvignon Blanc Santa Barbara – Unique, distinctly meaty, chewy, and slightly dark. Loaded with earthy-sweet “hunny” to be sure, rich, salty, and satisfying. A- / $42

2016 Fiddlehead Cellars Gruner Veltliner Santa Rita Hills – California makes precious little gruner but Joseph knows what she’s doing. Here we find gentle petrol notes mixed with an exotic, tropical character that’s touched with almond notes. Slightly yeasty, it evolves to showcase notes of roasted nuts and, oddly, some chocolate late in the game. Really unusual. A- / $42

2015 Fiddlehead Cellars Seven Twenty Eight Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills – 2015 is the current release, wow. Lush, dark, and chewy with cocoa powder notes, this dense wine was tough to put down and paired beautifully with buttermilk fried chicken. A steal at this price. A / $46

2015 Fiddlehead Cellars Oldsville Pinot Noir Oregon – An interesting contrast, brighter on the palate with some graphite and red clay notes. More classically structured. A- / $60

2014 Fiddlehead Cellars Lollapalooza Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills – Again, a current release. Lovely graphite notes here. Rich, cherry heavy, with light chocolate on the finish. A / $88

2014 Fiddlehead Cellars Alloro Pinot Noir Oregon – Quite muted and odd, with notes of rhubarb and mint, plus honeysuckle adding a perfumed note. Boldly floral, it reminds me a bit of gin. B / $88

2017 Fiddlehead Cellars Sweetie Late Harvest Gruner Veltliner Santa Rita Hills – If you thought California gruner was rare, what about California dessert gruner? Honeyed and pretty, with more of that petrol on the nose. We had cheese for dessert as Joseph doesn’t love sweets, and I found the pairing a bit fitful. B+ / $35

2010 Fiddlehead Cellars Lollapalooza Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills – The first of several archive bottlings we tried. This one was gorgeous and not at all austere, still in the prime of its life. A / $NA

2008 Fiddlehead Cellars Seven Twenty Eight Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills – Unctuous and lush, though starting to fade a bit. Still quite pretty and approachable. B+ / $NA

2011 Fiddlehead Cellars Seven Twenty Eight Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills – Night and day vs. the 2008. Classic and vibrant and full of both red and black fruit, citrus peel, and a whip of licorice. Still available for purchase, too. A / $55

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