California’s First Woman Winemaker of the Modern Era
MaryAnn Graf’s father was a vocational agriculture teacher in Williams, CA. She loved the mechanical things he taught, but could not participate in at school in those days, and developed a love of science. In going to college at the University of California, Davis, she knew she wanted a vocation that was “hands on”, related to some part of agriculture, and provided a stable source of income. She initially declared Food Science as her major, took the elective courses in Viticulture and Enology, and was intrigued by the process of winemaking.
Her mother “ . . . always tried to instill in us the idea that we were individuals and that we should develop our own individuality”, a philosophy that served MaryAnn well, because she frequently was the only female in classes required for her major in Enology (Fermentation Sciences), when she earned her degree in 1965.
Her first position in the wine industry was in the Central Valley with Gibson Wine Co., where she spent five years as chemist and assistant winemaker. Subsequently she had one-year stints at United Vintners, at Asti in Sonoma County as a product development enologist, working to improve the quality of its fruit wines and doing laboratory work, and then at Sonoma Vineyards, where she continued to hone her skills in quality control. In 1973 she became the winemaker at Simi Winery in Healdsburg, shifting her winemaking skills from fruit wines to fine varietals. The noted consultant Andre Tchelistcheff served as her mentor throughout her time there.
Six years later, MaryAnn left Simi and with Marty Bannister co-founded Vinquiry, a highly successful business that specialized in providing analytical and consulting services to the winemaking industry. Marty and MaryAnn had decided there was a need for an independent wine-testing laboratory in Sonoma County. They founded Vinquiry in a doctor’s former office in downtown Healdsburg. At the start, the only two pieces of "high-tech" equipment they had were a spectrophotometer and a microscope. Despite those modest beginnings, within five years Vinquiry’s success forced them to find a new and larger home in Healdsburg. More growth caused another move to Windsor, where Vinquiry remains today. They later established three satellite laboratories in addition to the Windsor location. MaryAnn retired from Vinquiry in 2003, after some 40 years in the industry and working with clients worldwide. She still keeps some connection with winemaking , however, and does limited consulting focused on tasting blends and helping small-scale winemakers.
MaryAnn has many “firsts” to her credit. These include being the first woman to earn a degree in Enology (Fermentation Sciences) at UC Davis, the first woman winemaker of the modern era in California, and the first woman on the Board of Directors of the American Society for Enology and Viticulture. In addition, she was a charter member of the California Enological Research Society. Among other awards, MaryAnn is the recipient of the 2008 California State Fair Lifetime Achievement Award.
Currently, MaryAnn enjoys traveling to the American Southwest and South Africa, particularly the wine country there. She has also returned to two earlier loves, the ukulele and knitting.
Her career can be summed up by her saying that, “My perception of winemaking jobs was that you (everyone) started at the bottom worked hard, paid their dues and eventually you worked your way up.”