Uncorked: Fiddlehead Cellars

When Kathy Joseph was first getting into wine making almost 34 years ago, there weren’t as many women mentors there are today. In fact, with her success producing sauvignon blanc and pinot noir from both California’s Santa Barbara County and Oregon’s Willamette Valley, she has become one. What she did have, however, was her own version of the traditional entrepreneurial recipe: curiosity, perseverance and more than a little fearlessness.

Her first great mentor, a then-lone wolf named Zelma Long, gave her essential lessons in tasting wine, not to mention evoking what it might look like to be feminine in a world that included work boots, mud, fork lifts and tractors. Later male mentors guided her through vineyards and wineries in many corners of Napa and Sonoma, not to mention toward grad school in the viticulture program at UC Davis—until she decided she didn’t want to be in those familiar wine places at all.

“I had to find a niche,” Joseph says. “I wanted to find places that had promise and where I could be part of their recognition. I had made all those other wines, and I believed I could make them well in a new place.”

Or, as it turned out, two new places. Joseph was part of the wine revolutions that turned both Santa Barbara and Willamette into destinations for pinot noir. Both are different terroirs, so the pinots they serve up are different from one another. What they do that’s important is reflect upon their regions, upon their now-famous terroirs, in a dazzling way.

At Fiddlehead Cellars, Joseph produces Santa Barbara pinot noirs most notably from Fiddlestix Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills; and true to their cool climate, the result features notes of cherry cola, star anise and white pepper. Her wines from Oregon, she says, are more feminine, with earthiness and tobacco notes from the valley’s volcanic soils. At one time Joseph traveled to Oregon each year to make them with leased equipment, but then learned her personal results were better if she transported the grapes 900 miles south to Santa Barbara. The one trade-off was that, because of labeling laws, she could then call these wines only “Oregon pinot noir,” even though all the grapes come from a single vineyard in a single district.

Along the way, Joseph has also found time to produce sauvignon blanc, the wonderful white grape of Bordeaux, as though to balance her preeminence with pinot noir, the wonderful red grape of Burgundy. Different iterations of her sauvignon blanc run the gamut from Old World in the style of the Loire Valley to New World with a nod to New Zealand. And she even makes an easygoing (but vineyard-designated) rose called Pink Fiddle that rivals those so popular in Provence.

For all the masculine work boots, mud, fork lifts and tractors filling her life, Joseph launches her rose each year with an everything-pink party the Saturday before Valentine’s Day. “What you don’t know,” she laughs, “is that I’m famous for my parties.”


Click here for an exclusive look at the delish duck recipe created for Fiddlehead 2010 Lollapalooza Pinot Noir by Babette’s Kitchen.

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