In wine, as in many things, women have been historically underrepresented. In the United States, women make up only around 20% of winemakers. But there are many female vintners who are changing the face of wine and making a big impact in their communities. One of these is Cassandra Martin, assistant winemaker and tasting room manager at Snow Farm Vineyard.
Here's a look at how Cassandra followed a non-traditional path to become a winemaker in Vermont.
Women in Wine: Cassandra Martin
Assistant Winemaker and Tasting Room Manager, Snow Farm Vineyard
Winemaker Cassandra Martin gained her training as an apprentice to head winemaker Patrick Barrelet at Snow Farm Vineyard.
How did you get in involved in the wine industry?
I was in the Marine Corps living in Southern California and I loved exploring the California wine industry. It sparked an interest in wine in general. I would talk to the people working in the tasting rooms and different areas of the vineyard whenever I got the chance.
When I moved back to Vermont in 2008, the original owners of Snow Farm Vineyard were looking for someone to work in the tasting room. I pounced on the opportunity. It just so happens that the winemaker, Patrick Barrelet, also needed a new assistant. I inquired as to whether he'd be open to me working for him without a lot of experience. I began as an apprentice to him and caught on pretty quickly. Here I am 14 years later.
How did you get your training?
It’s been all hands-on training with Patrick. I’ve been working side by side with him and I’ll also do research on my own. We work together throughout the entire year, mostly inside the winery, with some fieldwork. I’ve done everything from pruning to the tests to see if the grapes are ready through harvesting, acidity and alcohol testing, racking, and bottling.
Snow Farm Vineyard owners, Dave and Julie Lane, alongside assistant winemaker Cassandra Martin.
What’s been the most challenging part?
I didn’t go to school for winemaking and the most challenging part has been people taking me seriously as a winemaker, outside of Snow Farm Vineyard. People who don't know me expect to hear that I went somewhere like UC Davis and got a degree, or took winemaking classes.
I want to emphasize that studying under a head winemaker like Patrick Barrelet, who is extremely knowledgeable, is a really valuable route to take on the path to becoming a winemaker. If you have a passion for it you can often learn more in a real-world environment than in any book, while you do your own research and studying on the side.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
I love that there is a yearly flow. You’ll be pruning in the spring, bottling in the summer, and harvesting in the fall. Though every year is the same, every day is different.
The wines are also different every year, based on the changing growing conditions. So you’re not always working with the same product year after year. What you decide to do with your juice this year isn’t the same thing you’d do next year, so it keeps it very fresh and very interesting. That’s what I enjoy the most.
What’s your favorite wine to make?
I love making sparkling wine. The method is very different and the process is a lot longer than traditional winemaking so there's delayed gratification. One major difference is you have to riddle the bottles to keep them clear of sediment. At Snow Farm, we do it by hand. When you riddle the bottles you tip them so the sediment settles down toward the cork. You pop the cork to blow the sediment out, add the filling liqueur to make the sparkling wine dry or sweeter, and then recork the bottle. It’s pretty time-consuming and labor-intensive, but it’s very personal. I love doing it because it's an old-style done by generations of winemakers before me.
What’s your advice to other women who might be interested in getting into winemaking?
Look into exactly what part of winemaking interests you because there are a lot of different areas you can work in. If you want to work at a small winery, it will be a lot more hands-on and you’ll do a lot more. You’ll see the whole process with a lot more physical work. If you want to go to a larger facility, you can be a little more specific with your focus. You might be more into one specific part of the process like filtering the wine or pressing grapes during harvest.
Vineyards and wineries also have tasting rooms or event spaces where you can get your foot in the door, and still be around the wine production atmosphere. You can work your way into the production area if you’re not able to get into production right away. Don’t be deterred from doing it because you feel like you have to go to school or have a lot of knowledge going in.
What's next for you?
I love working with wine at Snow Farm Vineyard. I see myself staying in wine. I love that vineyards help to keep the land in agriculture. I really believe in that. I've watched Snow Farm steadily grow and it's something I’m really proud to be part of. I love the people I work with.
Wine is something that people have enjoyed for a long time and something people will always enjoy. I like helping to produce a product that is part of everyday life and special occasions for so many people. It’s something I can see myself doing for the rest of my life.
Thank you Cassandra for infusing your passion into Vermont wine! Say hello to Cassandra the next time you're at the Snow Farm Vineyard tasting room and be sure to raise a glass to all the fantastic women working in the wine industry!