Kathy Joseph sells Sta. Rita Hills AVA site but will continue to operate Fiddlehead Cellars in Lompoc
After more than 25 years of owning the 100-acre Fiddlestix Vineyards, where she has farmed and made wine, Kathy Joseph has sold Fiddlestix Vineyards.
The new owners of the vineyards, located in the Sta. Rita Hills American Viticultural Area, are Justin Willett of Tyler Wines, Erik Mallea and Todd Gray of (Willett-Mallea Farming) and William Borgers.
“This sale of Fiddlestix to Justin Willett and partners was born out of mutual respect and a commitment to both the region and the community that we have fostered here. I am proud to be passing this vineyard on in such great condition and I remain deeply committed to the Sta. Rita Hills,” said Ms. Joseph.
She purchased the vineyard in 1996 and planted the popular pinot noir vineyard in 1998.
“Having overseen the Fiddlestix Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills for 25 years as a one woman-show, I feel I have made my mark in the arena,” Ms. Joseph said.
She will continue to operate Fiddlehead Cellars, a Lompoc business that was founded in 1989.
Ms. Joseph talked about the origin of the unique names for the Vineyard and Cellars.
“My winery was named Fiddlehead Cellars, after the frond of a fern plant. It represents my winemaking operation and the type of wines I want to make,” she said. “Just like the fiddlehead (which emerges once a year), I have once a year new releases. And like the fiddlehead, it is considered a delicacy or special in cooking and at the table (like I wanted my wines to be), and the fiddlehead evolved into an elegant plant, like I wanted my wines to age.
“The fiddlehead is also a beautiful design symbol. So when it came time to name my vineyard, I wanted to have fun, and fiddlehead/fiddlestix seemed to be good partners,” Ms. Joseph told the News-Press in an email.
Fiddlestix Vineyards and Fiddlehead Cellars have a long and rich partnership. Ms. Joseph elaborated on the partnership between the two and how they both got started.
“When I started Fiddlehead Cellars in 1989, I knew I wanted to make place-driven wines from special lesser-known sites, beginning with the famed Sierra Madre Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley,” she said. “When that site was sold (and was split up), I began searching for a new pinot noir source. I quickly learned there was none available in Santa Barbara County, so I started my quest to find land of my own to plant.
“The most exciting option was the flower farm located opposite Sanford and Benedict on Santa Rosa Road in western Santa Ynez Valley,” Ms. Joseph said. “The Sta. Rita Hills AVA was yet to be defined, and only a few people were farming pinot noir at the time.
“So, in 1996, I took the leap of investment, based on the exciting wines I tasted made from the property across the street. I knew how important location was to define the character of the wines,” she said.
“I spent extensive time researching the best choices for planting, and ultimately vines went in the ground in 1998 and my first vintage was in 2000,” she said. “I only needed 15 acres for my brand, Fiddlehead Cellars, but I needed to purchase a minimum of 100 acres due to county requirements.
“In addition to the magnificent fruit I cultivated for Fiddlehead, I sold the remaining grapes to other producers who worked their magic, as well,” Ms. Joseph told the News-Press.
Ms. Joseph is transitioning to working with growers to make small-lot wines. She feels that after 25 years of nurturing her vineyard, she is well equipped to work with growers. “I feel incredibly armed with information and experience to collaborate with farmers. I know what to look for in the vineyard, what questions to ask, and I now have great appreciation for relevant decision making in the vineyard.
“I always say, winemaking begins with grapes grown in extraordinary sites with extraordinary farming, and I look forward to remaining active in vineyards,” Ms. Joseph told the News-Press.
Fiddlehead Cellars will be releasing estate grown wines from Fiddlestix Vineyards under its 2021 vintage. Ms. Joseph plans to expand Fiddlehead’s focus and to include new regions and sites for future vintages.
Ms. Joseph talked about what she hopes to see take place under the new ownership at Fiddlestix Vineyards.
“I think they will respect the property and its history, and I am passing it on to them with a wonderful notoriety,” she told the News-Press. “They have local interest and have a history of respected farming and winemaking. I think that will be evident in their management with a commitment to continue the admirable reputation I achieved.
As Ms. Joseph transitions into her new-role at Fiddlehead Cellars, she talks about her plans and what she envisions for the future. “I think some of my best wines are yet to come. I look forward to taking my last 25 years of hand-on farming and incorporating that knowledge into more ‘thinking outside the box’ winemaking.
“In fact, that is how Fiddlehead started in 1989 — with a mission to make place-driven wines that were from underdog varietals at the time: pinot noir and sauvignon blanc.
“When I planted Gruner Veltliner at Fiddlestix, that certainly was on the outskirts of the norm, and I am so pleased to have made that decision. My future is an open book filled with exciting potential, but I still cherish Santa Barbara County and the potential it promises.
“Fiddlestix is more than just a great site, over time it has become part of the culture of Santa Barbara wine country. The site was there from the very formation of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation, and has been a trusted source for some of Santa Barbara’s greatest winemakers,” Ms. Joseph said.
“Over my 25 years of owning Fiddlestix, I have enjoyed countless memorable experiences hosting wine lovers from across the globe at this special vineyard. I want to continue these relationships and invite all those wine lovers out there to stay in touch with Fiddlehead; it’s time for us to have more fun!”