The wines of Fiddlehead Cellars were served Thursday night with cheeses and other wine-friendly tidbits at Mariposa.
Well, that was fun.
On Thursday night, Kathy Joseph, winemaker, proprietor and general force behind Fiddlehead Cellars, poured her wines at a tasting at Neiman Marcus' Mariposa restaurant. She was an enthusiastic hostess, visiting with every guest to share the details of her winemaking.
As things were winding down we spent a very enjoyable half hour or so tasting everything she brought with everything chef Marc Anthony Freiberg had put on the table.
Which means she took an educated guess at which tasty bit would go best with which wine and I basically ate whatever she pointed me toward, with a sip of whatever she poured in my glass. Then we'd discuss whether she was right. For the most part, yes.
It was a rather one-sided endeavor, but a great deal for me.
Among the highlights:
A moist, light smoked salmon with two pinots — the feminine Lollapalooza, 2010, and more masculine Burtie Baby, 2011 (the name comes from her mom's nickname for her dad). A nutty aged cheddar also played well.
A creamy but assertive Boursin cheese, with Happy Canyon sauvignon blanc, 2013, a light, silky wine, low on fruitiness, that paired well with the herbal notes in the cheese.
Blue cheese and a slice of strawberry with Sweetie, a late-harvest sauvignon blanc, 2013, sweetness and saltiness making a great match.
Kathy Joseph is winemaker and owner of Fiddlehead Cellars.
The backstory: Joseph, a Chicago native, was imagining a career in medicine when she began her college studies in microbiology and biochemistry. But it was daunting to consider the years it would take to earn a degree, so she cast about for something else to match her interests and came up with winemaking.
Fermentation, well that's microbiology; the aging of wines — biochemistry.
Joseph took on graduate studies in enology and viticulture at the University of California-Davis, coupled with hands-on study with great winemakers in nearby Napa Valley and beyond. She made, she says, "everything under the sun."
In 1989 she started Fiddlehead Cellars, based in the Santa Rita Hills of Santa Barbara County, Calif. "I knew that I had to find a niche," she says. That turned out to be elegantly styled pinot noirs and sauvignon blancs with a focus on vineyards in Santa Barbara and Oregon's Willamette Valley. She's now on her 28th vintage.
In 1996 she bought 100 acres for her Fiddlestix Vineyard. Her grapes are sourced there and from other vineyards where she buys by the acre, allowing her to specify how the grapes are grown and when they are picked.
Her ideal, Joseph says, is wines that are delicious, with complexity "but not precious." Not aggressive, not acidic, but rich and expressive.
"People come to the table with an impression of what pinot noir and sauvignon blanc should be," she says, "and I think I break all the rules."