Fiddlehead Cellars 30-Year Anniversary: Drink ‘728’ on 7/28
I recently attended a special event at Fiddlestix Vineyard hosted by Kathy Joseph, the co-owner and
winemaker of Fiddlehead Cellars in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA of Santa Barbara County. Kathy invited a cadre of
press and consumers and generously opened wines from her library for tasting dating back to her first
commercial vintage of Pinot Noir in 1989. Many of the Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc library wines from the
2000s were also available for purchase.
The theme of the event, “Drink ‘728’ on 7/28,” refers to the 7.28-mile marker at the entrance to Fiddlestix
Vineyard and one of the Fiddlehead Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noirs produced with the name ‘728.” Kathy’s cohost
was her husband, Tom Doyle, an attorney practicing in Northern California who resides with Kathy at their
second home in Davis, California. They are pictured together below:
Kathy launched Fiddlehead Cellars 30 years ago at a time when there were very few women winery owners and
winemakers. She was mentored by several exceptional winemakers from California’s North Coast and
graduated from UC Davis with a degree in enology and viticulture. In 1989, she created a winery like no other.
Kathy searched for a catchy name for her winery by exploring many books, but the name, Fiddlehead, came to
her after nurturing some Fiddlehead ferns in her garden that were just unfurling. She loved the visual
connection of the curled fern emerging and her own curly hair. The ‘fiddle’ theme is evident in her nom de
plume, “Head Fiddle.”
As “Head Fiddle,” Kathy deftly manages the business matters of the winery while remaining completely
engaged as a winemaker, marketer, winegrower, always adapting her pre-med Midwest roots to the wine
Her estate vineyard, Fiddlestix, is a prime example of sustainable farming. The vineyard was planted in 1998
entirely to Pinot Noir and is managed by Coastal Vineyard Care. Located on the north side of Santa Rosa Road
across the highway from Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, the 94 producing acres are divided into 35 mini-blocks
representing different combinations of seven clones (Pommard 4 & 5, Dijon 113, 115, 667, and 777, a Swan
selection), three rootstocks, and various elevations, exposures and well-draining soil combinations. Spacing is
tight at 1,556 vines per acre with VSP trellising and primarily north-south facing rows throughout. The first wine
offered from Fiddlestix Vineyard was the 2000 vintage. More recently, some Grüner Veltliner was planted at
Fiddlestix Vineyard and the first wine offered from the 2014 vintage.
Fiddlehead currently retains about 15% of Fiddlestix Vineyard’s output and produces about 5,000 cases of
Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc wines, and small amounts of Grüner Veltliner (since 2014), Rosé (since 2004),
sparkling wine (since 2008) and sweet wine annually from Fiddlestix Vineyard and sourced grapes in Santa
Barbara County and the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Production is distributed primarily through the tasting
room in Lompoc, direct to consumer through a mailing list, and to national retailers. The wines are not generally
submitted to the wine press for review, instead encouraging consumers to visit the winery and tasting room and
interact with Kathy and her staff to fully appreciate Kathy’s enthusiasm and love of winemaking and her wines
of elegance, expression of place and age-worthiness. Her tasting room is open Friday-Sunday and weekday by
appointment. I highly recommend a tasting. Visit www.fiddleheadcellars.com for more details.
Pinot Noir is offered in several bottlings from Fiddlestix Vineyard: “728,” “Lollapalooza” (a barrel selection),
“Burtie Baby” (a 7 barrel selection, Single Clone wines, and “Doyle,” (a single outstanding barrel only offered in
special vintages as an ode to Kathy’s Husband Tom with artist series labels). The first fifteen years she made
her Oregon Pinot Noir at Yamhill Valley Vineyards located off of “Oldsville Road,” and then beginning in 2000,
started trucking grapes in refrigerated haulers to Lompoc for vinification. Since 2006, Kathy has sourced Pinot
Noir grapes from Alloro Vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains of the Willamette Valley and based on my tasting
of several vintages of her Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs since this is the most outstanding Oregon fruit source.
She offered the “Oldsville Reserve” Oregon Pinot Noir for many years made from three Oregon vineyards
(Elton, Seven Springs and Yamhill Valley), but now sources grapes exclusively from Alloro Vineyard.
Sta. Rita Hills is not suitable for successful growing Sauvignon Blanc so Kathy sources from vineyards more
inland in warmer Santa Ynez Valley area sites.
The Press Tasting was a somewhat hurried affair as there were 32 wines from vintages 1989 to 2014 to taste
along with Kathy’s commentary and less than an hour to do it. Therefore, I can only offer some general
impressions. Inquire to the winery about the availability of library wines for purchase.
1. The Sauvignon Blanc wines were noteworthy for their age ability. The Santa Ynez Valley Sauvignon Blancs
from 1993, 1995 and 1998 were all fresh and enjoyable with the 1998 from magnum showing the best and
with the longest finish. The ‘Gooseberry’ Santa Barbara County Sauvignon Blancs from 2001, 2005, 2007
and 2010 vintages were vinified in stainless steel and showed the most aromatic intensity and edginess from bright acidity. The ‘Honeysuckle’ Santa Barbara County Sauvignon Blancs from 2001, 2005 and 2009
were more New World in style marrying more richness of fruit and plush textures with new oak barrel ageing.
2. The 1989 and 1993 Sierra Madre Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noirs showed faded fruit and tertiary
notes of tea, leather and cigar. They were still attractive wines soldiering on with excellent acidity.
3. The 2001 Lollapalooza Pinot Noir showed faded fruit and noticeable tannins. The 2002 and 2003 vintages
of this wine were more alive with noticeable sap, yet fruit was fading and tannins stuck out a bit.
4. The 2007 Fiddlehead Twentieth Anniversary bottling from Fiddlestix Vineyard was a superb wine, with a
generous attack, enviable mid palate intensity and wholesome finishing generosity. It was offered at the
event at $54, a real steal for a library wine.
5. The 2012 Alloro Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir was one of my favorites among the Oregon Pinot
Noirs. This is a stellar vineyard and I have written glowingly in the past about Pinot Noir produced from the
6. The most impressive Fiddlehead wines tasted were the vertical of Doyle Pinot Noirs poured by Tom Doyle.
Beginning with the 2002 vintage and including most years through 2012, these were very concentrated
wines that made a statement and retained an alluring attraction in every bottle. Sometime around the 2007
vintage, it seemed Kathy altered her winemaking such that the obvious tannins found in the years prior
were moderated and vintages from 2007 on were more to my preference. Tasting these wines with Tom was
the highlight of my time at the event.
Tasting of newer Fiddlehead releases:
2017 Fiddlehead Pink Fiddle Fiddlestix Vineyard Sta, Rita Hills Rosé of Pinot Noir
alc., pH 3.31, TA 0.60, 273 cases, $23. Not a saignée, but rather a purposeful rosé produced from
distinctive blocks at Fiddlestix Vineyard in the nascent stage of the vintage. Each block and clonal
selection (113, Pommard 4, 667) is targeted specifically for this wine by expressing early flavor
maturity at lower sugar. Less than 24-hour skin contact. Gentle de-stemmed, free-run juice and
light pressed skins, cold fermented in stainless steel to dryness. Partial malolactic fermentation.
Watermelon pink color in the glass. The aromatics are highly enticing, featuring scents of cut apple,
strawberry, raspberry, red current, and watermelon. The flavors echo the aromas with added flavors of red
cherry and cranberry. Brisk, clean, dry and vivacious with welcome richness of flavor and spirited acidity.
2013 Fiddlehead Seven Twenty Eight Fiddlestix Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
13.7% alc., pH 3.31,
TA 0.6659, 2,880 cases, $44. Grapes harvested at night, clones 115, 113, Pommard 4, 667, 777 and Pommard
5 co-fermented in small vats after de-stemmed. Aged in French oak barrels, 35% new.
Moderately dark garnet
color in the glass. The nose leads with aged aromas of black cherry, leather, game, black currant and oak
spice. Nicely balanced, with middleweight flavors of dark cherry, blueberry and black currant. The wine seems
to have arrived at early maturity and shows a bit of rusticity and earthiness. The tannins are sleek, there is
good acidity and some finishing length.
2012 Fiddlehead Lollapalooza Fiddlestix Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., pH 3.54, TA 0.589, 307 cases, $80. The most
outstanding barrels in the vintage as selected by Kathy Joseph and her
winemaking team. Sourced from 19 blocks throughout Fiddlestix
Vineyard and included multiple pick dates. Grapes were harvested at
night, meticulously hand-sorted and 100% de-stemmed. Clones were
primarily 777, followed by 667 and Pommard 4 and 5. Free-run juice
only was aged 15 months in French oak barrels, 36% new.
color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with fresh aromas of black cherry
and spice. Discreetly rich in a mid weight plus style, offering layers of
dark red and black fruits with a compliment of spice and oak. The
suave, dry tannins lead to a satiny texture and the generous finish is
notable. Considerably more special when tasted later in the day from a
previously opened bottle.
2015 Fiddlehead Fiddlestix Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Grüner Veltliner
13.0% alc., pH 3.05, TA 0.66, 356 cases,
$28. Harvested from 2.8-acres planted at Fiddlestix
Vineyard. Grapes were harvested at night and handsorted.
Whole cluster pressed to tank, cold-settled and
racked to a majority of neutral French oak barrel where it
was aged on its less. The remaining 25% was cold
fermented in tank. Both fractions were non-malolactic fermented and
aged separately for 10 months after which they were married together
just before bottling.
Pale platinum color in the glass. Gracious aromas
of lemon-lime, parchment, wax and nuts. Bright and crisp on the palate,
infused with flavors of lemon-lime, pear, vanilla, cream soda and nuts.
Very polished, with refreshing acidity. Still fine when re-tasted the
following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. I do not have much experience with this varietal
so I have few benchmarks for comparison, but this was an outstanding wine and I presume a superb example
of this varietal.