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Winery Profiles

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.


Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is oohttp://www.fiddleheadcellars.comholriginal to Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Celebrate with Trefethen! A Napa Valley Landmark Turns 125

Before the Golden State was golden, or a state, its residents cultivated wine grapes. In 1782, Jesuit missionaries made sacramental wine at Mission San Juan Capistrano. They gradually moved mission-centered winemaking both north and south. In the 1850’s, businessmen began planting large amounts of wine grapes, and making wine, in areas such as Sonoma Valley, Napa Valley and Mission San Jose. Among the most prominent were George Yount, Agoston Haraszthy and Joseph Osborne.

Joseph Osborne created Oak Knoll Estate, an 1,100 acre farm, in 1851. It’s wine grape plantings in southern Napa Valley quickly reached 6,000 vines. Osborne died in 1863. But, 150 years later, the area surrounding Osborne’s estate is still known as the Oak Knoll District.

In 1875, brothers James and George Goodman, bought 280 acres of the land that had belonged to Osborne. They planted more than two-thirds of it to wine grapes. A man named Hamden McIntyre was hired to design the building for their new Eschol Winery. McIntyre also designed and oversaw construction of Far Niente (1885), the Greystone Winery, now home to the Culinary Institute of America's St. Helena campus (1888) and Inglenook Winery, aka Rubicon, (1891).

The Eschol Winery in it's early days.

Construction for Eschol was completed in 1886. Today, it is recognized by the National Register of Historic Places as the only surviving wooden, gravity-flow winery from the 19th century still standing in Napa Valley. It was painstakingly restored by the Trefethen family after they purchased the property in 1968. Now it holds Trefethen Family Vineyards’ estate tasting room and wine library. It’s also one of their red wine barrel-aging areas.

Enjoy a Country Fair

This Sunday, September 25, Trefethen Family Vineyards is putting on a community Country Fair to celebrate the 125th birthday of the historic building. The party runs from 11am to 2pm. The suggested admission fee is just $10 per vehicle and goes to support Napa Valley College’s wine studies programs.

One of the main features of the Country Fair is a parade. There will be a marching band, vintage tractors, horse-drawn wagons and carriages, plus historic cars and trucks. Other valley wineries, including Robert Biale Vineyards, Cakebread and Far Niente, will have vehicles in the parade too. Also in the parade will be a float carrying a large, scale model of the Statue of Liberty. ("Lady Liberty" celebrates her 125th birthday this year too.)

In addition to the parade, will be carnival games, including a dunk-tank in which the Trefethen family and winemakers take the plunge. Wine and gourmet food trucks will provide refreshment. Tickets for the games, food and wine will be sold at the event. A phone call RSVP is appreciated but not required, 800.556.4847.

Horse-drawn wagons such as those in the parade aren't new to the Eschol-Trefethen Winery.

The Trefethen estate vineyards

When Gene and Katie Trefethen bought what is now the Trefethen Family estate, both the vineyards and Eschol winery building were in bad shape. Replanting the vineyards began almost immediately. Unfortunately, it was done with AxR1 rootstock, as it was at virtually all Napa Valley wineries then. AxR1 was not as phylloxera-resistant as hoped. The Trefethens had to replant, along with so many other wineries, after the huge phylloxera outbreak of the late 1980’s.

Despite those troubles, the Trefethen family has always been dedicated to using estate fruit. Gene’s son, John Trefethen, made the company’s first commerical wine in 1973. He had made trial batches in each of the previous three years. His wife and co-CEO, Janet, told me she believes they are the only winery in the United States that has been in business for at least 40 years but never used a single non-estate grape.

Janet and John Trefethen

Trefethen has more than 500 acres of vines — and arguably the largest contiguous single-vineyard in Napa Valley. From the beginning, They have always sold fruit to other wineries too. That was the bulk of their business for many years. Among the early customers was Domaine Chandon, founded by Moet Hennessy in 1973. That company started with Trefethen fruit and even made their wine in the old Eschol winery building for the first three years. Now that Trefethen’s own wine sales are thriving, they only sell about one-third of their yield.

Restoration of the historic Eschol Winery building

Restoration of the winery building didn’t begin until 1973. It began at the prompting of Janet Trefethen. Initially, she was just looking for someplace to house her horses. The winery had been unused for decades and, during Prohibition, had been used to store ever increasing amounts of wine that was made but not sold. Thus, when Janet and John first saw the winery it was a dirt-floored home to bats and pigeons with ramshackle additions protruding from the exterior walls.

Trefethen-FrontDoorIt’s amazing that the winery had survived at all. In 1889, there were 143 wineries in the Napa Valley. By 1968, there were fewer than 25 still around. Fire, earthquakes, and general wear-and-tear took their toll on many. On top of that were disuse and general neglect resulting from the challenges wineries faced due to phylloxera in the late 1880’s, the long Prohibition era, the Great Depression and World War II.

One reason this winery survived was its construction: tongue-in-groove redwood. Perhaps the joining and material helped it flex with earthquakes rather than collapse. It’s certain that redwood’s natural properties lead to longevity. The heartwood is high in tannic acid and highly resistant to insects and rot. And redwood is so resistant to fire that, even untreated, it's suitable for unrestricted use in any fire hazard severity zone according to the State Fire Marshal’s “Wildland-Urban Interface Fire Areas Building Standards.”

When it came to restoration, the Trefethens carefully researched the original Eschol winery. They added concrete floors, electricity and have made it a very attractive and functional building, but stuck faithfully to the original structural design. When I asked Janet Trefethen what year restoration was completed, she exclaimed with good-natured exasperation, “I’m still working on it!” With a building that old, there’s always work to be done. However, she figures the final step in restoration of the original design came in the early 1980’s when architecturally-accurate cupolas were installed. Her horses still live elsewhere though.

About Trefethen Family Vineyards

Logo-Trefethen-FamilyVineyardsTrefethen Family Vineyards is located at 1160 Oak Knoll Avenue in Napa, less than five minutes drive from Highway 29. They are open for tastings daily, 10am - 4:30pm. Tours of the historic winery building are available daily at 10:30am by appointment.

Trefethen is best known for very good Chardonnay, made in a relatively restrained style. Their wines are very well-made across the board though and among them are Pinot Noir, Bordeaux-variety blends and one of the best dry Rieslings in Napa Valley. Trefethen Family Vineyards is also committed to being a sustainable producer.


Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. Photos courtesy of Trefethen Family Vineyards. All rights reserved.

Tasting Report: Grace Family Vineyards at Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant

Richard Grace wants to be on a plane to Tibet tomorrow. But he won’t be. It seems the Chinese government is cracking down on foreign visitors again. His presence in Tibet could put his hosts at risk, so he will stay in Napa for now. How does this relate to a wine tasting?

When winery owners go to a tasting, they often bring a binder or portfolio. In some cases, the binder includes pictures of the vineyards or tasting room. Sometimes it has pictures of the winemaking process. Other binders have winemaker’s notes on the individual wines. What is the blend? How much new oak was used? At how many degrees brix were the grapes picked.

Dick Grace brought a binder to the tasting last night. He showed it to everyone he could.   It was full of pictures. But there was not a grape or vineyard to be seen. The pictures showed Tibetan children. It showed the poor living conditions they used to have and the run down schools. And it showed the new dormitories and beautiful schools Mr. Grace has helped build for them. It showed supporters of the Dalai Lama unfurling banners of support on the Golden Gate Bridge. And there was a photo of Dick showing THAT photo to the Dalai Lama.

Grace Family Vineyards makes some of the best wine in the world. Many people can attest to that and we will too. The wine is so sought after and made in such low volumes that at this moment there are about 4,500 people on a waiting list just to get onto the allocation list. That allocation list can only include 600 people. So if you want to try to taste the wine, you need to have a friend who already gets it. Or buy it on consignment from a store with such a friend. Or go to one of the rare public tastings as we did.

Profile of McCay Cellars: Video Interview with Michael McCay, Photos, More

McCay Cellars is a small, family-owned winery in Lodi. They make boutique quantities of high-quality wines. The winery is best known for old vine Zinfandel, but they produce a variety of wines using their estate Petite Sirah and grapes sourced from other top vineyards in the area.

The McCay Cellars Zinfandels have a different profile than most from Lodi. Proprietor/winemaker Michael McCay brings an old world sensibility to his wines. They are dry, aged only in French oak and as notable for their texture as for their complexity.

I recently spent a day at the winery and vineyards with Michael McCay. That day he and his team were bottling five wines. McCay Cellars Contention Zinfandel, a new high-end production, was among them. It’s a single-vineyard Zinfandel from a very unique, old-vine site. Michael McCay provides more detail on that vineyard and his wines overall in the video below.



McCay Cellars will release the 2010 Contention Zinfandel in about six months.

McCay Cellars makes much of their Zinfandel from old-vine grapes. This vine is nearly 100 years old. It's trunk is thick as a man's thigh.

McCay Cellars red wines are aged only in French oak. Some get a high-percentage of new oak, others more neutral. Some of the wines are put into hogsheads or puncheons. These over-sized barrels impart less oak flavor on the wines because the ratio of oak surface area to wine volume is lower than with a standard barrel.

After aging in French oak, McCay Cellars red wines, such as this 2009 Truluck's Zinfandel, are transferred to a stainless steel tank for bottling.

McCay Cellars is also releasing a rosé this year. It looks fizzy here because of the bottling process. It is a still wine.



Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. Photos and video by Fred Swan. All rights reserved.

Tasting Library Wines at Joseph Swan Vineyards

Today, I headed up to Joseph Swan Vineyards in Russian River Valley. They were celebrating their 40th anniversary as a bonded winery by pouring library wines.