Meet Kathy Joseph, Owner and Winemaker At Fiddlehead Cellars

Meet Kathy Joseph, owner and winemaker at Fiddlehead Cellars in Sta. Rita Hills as part of a series of winemaker interviews I am doing for California Winery Advisor.


Carrying the title of proprietor, winemaker, grape herder, and head fiddle, Kathy Joseph has tireless passion and energy. And if you meet her, you will find her exuberance infectious. In 1989, she was one of the first female winemakers to open her own winery in Santa Barbara County and selected a property at mile marker 7.28 on Santa Rosa Rd. in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.

Kathy’s intent was to focus on Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. Fiddlestix Vineyard was planted to Pinot Noir and Kathy sources her Sauvignon Blanc from the warmer Happy Canyon AVA. She has since added a small planting of Grüner Veltliner in the Fiddlestix Vineyard. All of the Fiddlehead wines deliver a sense of place in the glass.


What made you choose the region you are in to make wine?

It was new – somewhat of a frontier- with tremendous potential for success for a huge range of varietals due to its unique geography and exposure to the ocean.

Is there something specific that you love about the region you are in?

Diversified agriculture (row crops, berries, nut trees, grapes) living in harmony.

What is your favorite wine variety? Why?

There is no such thing for me. Why limit yourself to enjoying a single variety? I love to make Pinot Noir because of the challenge. Its transparency allows you to “see all”. It is a great challenge to the winemaker to reflect the place without overshadowing the varietal personality, but I definitely drink more than just Pinot Noir.

Is there a wine variety that intrigues you? Have you worked with it or do you have plans to?

Grüner Veltliner. Grüner is an old-world wine and I have enjoyed so many Austrian Grüners. I took the leap and planted a small block at Fiddlestix Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills, known as a cool-climate site.

When I started Fiddlehead Cellars in Santa Barbara County, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc were gaining recognition and momentum. Now with Grüner Veltliner, I like to think that I was forward-thinking and a believer that it could achieve local success both in terms of growing and market acceptance.

What are you drinking right now?

Well, last night I had Rick Longoria’s 1994 Merlot. Delicious.

What was the moment or experience that piqued your interest in wine?

I was looking for a good-fit job out of college. I was thinking about medical school, but I thought it might be too boring. I was looking for something that would put my skills to work and be fun. It was a big experiment for me; I was intrigued with the diversity of the whole business of winemaking and I loved the idea it had a universal interest and brought people from all walks of life together. I was attracted to the variety of the work that would put my love of the palate and my love of ‘science as art’ into action. I loved the challenge of translating a place and a vintage into wine that was compelling, and that every year presents new, organic challenges. It is never boring! At that time of my career, it was low risk. When I got married in 1980, I was probably one of the few people to have a wine shower. That was the beginning of my collection and it has only become larger and grander ever since! I was also lucky that during my graduate school years at UC Davis, I accepted internships with well-seasoned and creative Napa and Sonoma Valley winemakers who took me under their wings and set me on a fast track to hands-on learning. I had access and connections to a range of experienced and well-recognized winemakers well before my peers.

If you were not making wine, what would you be doing?

Travelling, cooking, cycling, gardening, and probably drinking wine!

As a winery, how do you typically reach your customers? What are you doing to increase DTC sales outside the tasting room? 

All ways!  Direct conversations, email newsletters, Social Media (mostly Facebook and Instagram), events and tasting activities, including seminars and zoom connections.

In the “new normal” of the COVID world, how are you doing? How are you adapting? What is working for you?

We are doing okay, but the rules keep changing and there are so many mixed messages of who is allowed to be open and who is not. We are open Friday-Sunday and have a great outdoor tasting patio where we adhere to strict safety rules, while still allowing tasting guests to enjoy our weekly changing tasting menu. I think more people have time to be looking for new wineries, so having a website helps tell the story.

What is the one tip you would give the average wine buyer about finding great value wines?

You should buy what tastes good to you, not what someone told you tastes good and not something that is simply more expensive or in a cool bottle shape.  Trust your palate- and do not rely on scores or medals that reflect the opinions of others.  Do not get stuck on drinking one wine, one varietal, one producer, or wines from one area. The more you taste, the more your palate will grow, and the better you will get at deciphering truly great value wines, in every price point. Is that more than ONE tip?


Read the original story in California Winery Advisor.