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Fiddleheads for Spring: Pinot Noir and Grüner Veltliner with the Advantage of Extended Aging
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 30, 2022
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Fiddlehead Cellars Pinot Noir, Oregon “Oldsville” 2015 and Sta. Rita Hills “Seven Twenty Eight” 2015; and Grüner Veltliner, Sta. Rita Hills 2016: 
Back in the 1990s, winemaker Kathy Joseph’s path crossed with mine and my husband’s many times when we all participated in large West Coast wine competitions.  Recently, I was delighted to spend time again with Kathy and her wines at a press tasting she conducted over Zoom.

Reacquainting with friends and acquaintances from Before is one of the special pleasures of these post-pandemic days.  Reacquainting with Kathy Joseph of Fiddlehead Cellars was a particularly rich pleasure because of the terrific quality of her wines — two wonderful Pinot Noirs and a stunning Grüner Veltliner.

Kathy is a pioneer in the wine trade, one of Santa Barbara County’s first female winemakers to own both her own winery and vineyard, while maintaining a hands-on role in the farming, winemaking, sales, and all other aspects of the business.  For 30-plus years, she has run Fiddlehead Cellars winery as a one-woman show.  Obsessed with the concept of place as it expresses itself in wines, she has focused on grapes that express terroir: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and, more recently, Grüner Veltliner.  She currently makes Pinot Noir from her home vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA and from Alloro vineyard owned by David Nemarnik in Oregon’s Chehalem Mountains.  Her Grüner Veltliner hails from her Fiddlestix Vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills.  After selling her winery proper last year, she now plans to explore additional unique sites where she can work with growers to make small-lot wines for Fiddlehead Cellars.

Because Kathy believes in aging her wines before release — at least two years longer than her peers, she says — the current vintage of her Pinot Noirs is 2015, and her Grüner Veltliner is 2016.

The 2015 Fiddlehead Cellars Pinot Noir “Seven Twenty Eight,” Sta. Rita Hills ($46) is a rich, harmonious, flavorful Pinot Noir whose fruitiness belies its age.  Ripe black cherry fruit is layered with fine, dusty tannins to form a substantial Pinot that maintains liveliness from its firm acid core — itself owing to the cool location of the vineyard, just a few miles from the Pacific.  Along with black fruit, you’ll find red cherry, earthy notes, spice, and what Kathy calls cherry cola, a trademark of her region.  The only suggestion of the wine’s age seems to be the emergence of savory aromas and flavors, notes that validate the aging.  Named for the winery’s location, the 7.28 mile marker on Santa Rosa Road, this Pinot Noir is considered the signature wine of Fiddlehead Cellars.

In Oregon, Pinot Noir ripens about one month later than in Santa Barbara, which enables Kathy to be present in both vineyards during the harvest.  She transports the grapes down to California and makes the wine there, a detail that prevents her from using an AVA smaller than Oregon on her “Oldsville” Pinot Noir ($60).  Technicalities.  This is a wine that sings with fresh red fruits — tart cherries, cranberries — dried herbs, and delicate floral notes.  These aromatics are uplifted by persistent enlivening acidity and feathery tannins for overall brilliance and clarity of expression.

Which brings us to Grüner Veltliner.  Kathy is a longtime fan of Austrian Grüners and, as for Sauvignon Blanc, she enjoys the versatility of the grape.  Her goal in making her Grüner Veltliner was to “prove that there was something far more interesting than all of the stainless steel Grüner Veltliners that are released overnight and presented as ready to drink wines.”  Her 2016 was whole-cluster pressed and most of the juice (75%) barrel-fermented in French oak that had been used one to four times previously.  The remainder was fermented in stainless steel to preserve its fresh, crisp fruit and spicy notes.  Neither portion undergoes malolactic conversion, and they age separately for ten months before being blended together.

Five years later, the 2016 Fiddlehead Cellars Grüner Veltliner from Fiddlestix Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills ($30) is a dry, full-bodied white wine with rich texture cut through with high acidity.  The aromatics are exciting:  green apple, nectarines, honeydew, papaya, lemongrass and ginger.  In your mouth, these note s are concentrated and intertwined into a dry, flavorful wine with a gripping, mineral undernote. I find it at its peak now.

If you choose to follow Fiddlehead Cellars, you’ll find many other small-lot wines ,not to mention many more late-released current-vintages-to-be of these fine wines.

2015 Fiddlehead Cellars Pinot Noir “Seven Twenty Eight”  92 Points

2015 Fiddlehead Cellars Pinot Noir “Oldsville”  93

2016 Fiddlehead Cellars Grüner Veltliner  93

Read more of Mary Ewing-Mulligan's Wine Column:  "On My Table"
More wine reviews:       Wine Reviews