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Fiddlehead Cellars: Tasting and Harvest Photos

Roaming the Lompoc Wine Ghetto recently, I happened upon Kathy Joseph grilling up some ribs. Kathy is the proprietor-winemaker of Fiddlehead Cellars and owner of the Fiddlestix Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. Harvest is in full swing up and down the California coast and she was preparing lunch for her crush crew.

Photo: Fred Swan

Though it was a non-tasting day in the ghetto, Kathy was nice enough to invite me in to try her wines and learn more about Fiddlehead. Artist/winery tasting room manager Luis Ramirez poured and explained, while I tasted and looked over the great photos he’d taken that day. He's kindly agreed to let me share some with you here.


Photo: Luis Ramirez/Fiddlehead Cellars

Night harvesting is common in California, especially for wineries, such as Fiddlehead, that strive for elegant Pinot Noir. There are several benefits.

  • Grape sugars are lower in the morning, that makes fresher wines with lower alcohol possible.
  • The grapes are cooler, so spontaneous fermentation is less likely to occur in the bins prior to destemming. 
  • It's hard to chill a large mass of grapes once they've heated up, so night-harvested grapes make cold soaks easier to implement. 
  • It's more pleasant for the vineyard workers to pick in the cool of the morning than under the hot, bright sun. 
  • A side benefit is dramatic photos!


Photo: Luis Ramirez/Fiddlehead Cellars

Kathy Joseph looks over bins of just-harvested Pinot Noir. She's making sure that bunches are being properly selected and that no MOG — Material Other than Grapes — is finding its way into the bins. Leaves don't make good wine. She may taste a few grapes too.


Photo: Luis Ramirez/Fiddlehead Cellars

The Sta Rita Hills AVA is a cool one. It's not far from the ocean and is in a transverse (west-east) valley that funnels cold air and fog in from the sea. On this day, it reached a high of roughly 75° at the vineyard, about as warm as it ever gets. During the morning harvest, the temperature was 20° cooler. Just 20 miles or so farther east in Solvang, temperatures hit 95° that afternoon. Solvang is not within that transverse valley and is actually screened from the ocean by hills running north-south.

The Fiddlestix Vineyard itself is in a particularly good neighborhood. Directly across the street is the historic Sanford & Benedict vineyard and straight north, across the Santa Ynez River, is the Sea Smoke Vineyard. There are 96 acres of Pinot Noir vines on the 133-acre Fiddlestix property. The vines are divided into 32 different blocks which offer a lot of diversity: 6 clones, 3 rootstocks and a range of soils and terrains.


Photo: Luis Ramirez/Fiddlehead Cellars

Beautiful Pinot Noir grapes, still covered with dew. Pinot Noir bunches are compact, with small berries nestled tightly against each other.

Fiddlehead Cellars uses about 15% of the Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir grapes. The rest of the fruit is sold to other wineries. Current customers include Ancien, Anglim, Bonaccorsi, Cold Heaven, Dragonette, Hitching Post, Pali, Prodigal, RN Estate, Vogelzang and Wedell.


Photo: Luis Ramirez/Fiddlehead Cellars

The grapes go from small, easy-to-carry picker trays into 1.5 ton bins. These bins are taken by truck to the winery where they are dumped into a destemmer.


Photo: Luis Ramirez/Fiddlehead Cellars

Despite their sharp and steely appearance, modern destemmers treat the grapes fairly gently. The large screw carefully moves grapes from the hopper into the business part of the device.


Photo: Luis Ramirez/Fiddlehead Cellars

Intact berries go into fermentation tanks inside the winery. Huge piles of stems are discarded. They may wind up as compost.

About Fiddlehead Cellars

Fiddlehead Cellars is a small, privately-owned winery based in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. Kathy Joseph founded it in 1989 to make Pinot Noir (from both California and Oregon) and Sauvignon Blanc. Joseph was already a wine industry veteran, having done graduate studies in enology at U.C. Davis, worked for  Vintners Hall of Fame-inducted winemaker Zelma Long (Simi, Long Vineyards) and at both Joseph Phelps Winery and Robert Pecota Winery in Napa Valley. She's focused on making delicious, unmanipulate, texturally-interesting wines from sustainably-grown vineyards.

In 1996, Joseph snapped up some acreage in a prized area of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. It had been used to grow flowers but, to her, it was clearly and Pinot Noir vineyard waiting to happen. It's now the Fiddlestix Vineyard.

Fiddlehead has two tasting rooms. One is at the winery in Lompoc and is open Friday - Sunday, or by appointment. There is also a tasting room at Fiddlehead's business office in Davis. It's open Saturday and Sunday, or by appointment.

Tasted: Three Fiddlehead Cellars wines

2008 Fiddlehead Cellars Cuvée Seven Twenty Eight Pinot Noir, Sta Rita Hills, $42

This is an estate Pinot Noir, named for the mile marker (7.28) that stands roadside at Fiddlestix Vineyard. All six of the clones are used: Pommard 4 and 5, Dijon 667, 777, 113 and 115. They were fermented in small, open-top vats and left on the skins for 2 weeks. After fermentation, the wine aged for 16 months in French oak barrels.

The 2008 Fiddlehead Cellars Cuvée Seven Twenty Eight is a masculine Pinot Noir that carries itself lightly. Juicy dark cherries, cola, and dark spice plus a shot of vanilla are balanced by freshness and smooth, moderate tannins. Highly Recommended.

2009 Fiddlehead Cellars Oldsville Reserve Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $50

2009 was a warm vintage in the Willamette Valley. Consequently, most of the 2009 Oregon Pinot Noir I've tasted have been nearly full-bodied with bold and very ripe dark fruit. The 2009 Fiddlehead Cellars Oldsville Reserve is an exception. Made entirely from Alloro Vineyard fruit (on Laurel Ridge in the Chehalem Mountains AVA), it demonstrates the balance, fruit profile and foresty notes for which Oregon is prized.

Enticing dry herb and cedar are at the fore, supported by delcious raspberry and cranberry. The palate is fresh with a lightly chalky texture. Highly Recommended+.

2009 Fiddlehead Cellars Happy Canyon Sauvignon Blanc, $25

This wine comes from three vineyards (Vogelzang, McGinley and Grassini) in the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara County AVA. The vineyards are warm enough to avoid overtly green flavors but sufficiently cool to deliver a very juicy wine with citrusy notes. The fermentation is split into thirds.

  • Stainless steel to maintain fresh, spicy fruit and some delicate aromatics
  • New French oak for additional complexity and weight
  • Neutral oak for balance and mouthfeel

The nose is a nuanced blend of white peach, white flowers, lime and grapefruit. Thanks to sur lie aging, there's medium to medium-plus body and a creamy texture in the mouth. The fruit — again grapefruit, lime and stone fruit — is mouthwatering. Highly Recommended.

At the tasting room, Fiddlehead typically pours the Sauvignon Blanc after the Pinot Noir. That's because their Sauvignon Blanc has about the same palate weight and alcohol as the Pinot Noir, but is higher in acidity. The Pinot Noir are fresh, but would seem much less so if tasted after the Sauvignon Blanc. Of course, when the wines are sipped with a meal this isn't an issue because the food balances the Sauvignon Blanc. So, feel free to drink it first at home.


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