When Ann Raffetto accepted the job as co-winemaker at Wagner Vineyards, she didn’t think about the legacy she’d leave behind. “We were just trying to work with what equipment we had and trying to make the best wine that we could,” she smiles.
“I always get a little hesitant when people say ‘first woman winemaker’,” notes Ann as she highlights her colleagues working behind the scenes. “Maybe not technically in a winemaker role, but [women] were certainly in every other aspect doing whatever needed to be done.” The tireless efforts of women in the region have blazed a trail for the current generation of winemakers and beyond. Regardless of discipline, Ann has very clear directions for anyone looking to make a leap: “if you have an inkling, go for it.”
Finger Lakes Wine Country is proud to celebrate Women’s History Month with a roundup of winemakers following inklings and making waves.
Jess Johnson, Wagner Vineyards Estate Winery
Following Ann’s retirement in 2019, Jess Johnson stepped into the co-winemaker position alongside fifth generation Wagner family member, Kevin Lee. She’s clear that teamwork is a major part of the Wagner ethos. “It comes down to working together to make quality wine that represents the vineyards with authenticity. It's always a team effort.” Jess, who worked her way from the tasting room to the cellar, reminds us that the industry–like life–is fluid, “Change is OK and alright. Change is inevitable, [and…] it's important for growth. There are always new challenges that arise in the vineyard, cellar, and industry as a whole (especially the past few years). It’s important to keep an open mind and to recognize the challenges and be able to learn and adapt.”
Susan Passmore, Buttonwood Grove Winery
For several years, Susan Passmore served as the tasting room manager for Buttonwood Grove Winery until 2014, when the winery changed ownership and Sue stepped into a new role: winemaker. She calls her transition into the industry unexpected, picking grapes and working her way to the cellar. Over time, Sue and the owners, Dave and Melissa Pittard, have worked hard to honor and optimize an already strong foundation of work. Their efforts resulted in a New York State’s 2017 Governor’s Cup Award for Sue’s 2016 Riesling right out the gate.
Ashley McCaffrey, Fox Run Vineyards
Fox Run Vineyards is known as an incubator for the finest talent around the region and assistant winemaker Ashley McCaffrey is no exception. The Finger Lales Community College graduate interned at Fox Run in 2014 and after gaining further experience became an integral part of the team in early 2021. Despite the challenges of the ‘21 harvest, Ashley says Fox Run capitalized on what Mother Nature provided. “We chose to create some new labels this year to diversify the expression of the fruit we had coming in, including a stainless steel Lemberger and a force carbonated Rosé. Getting to explore these styles–wines that are lighter in body and aromatically fruit-forward–has been really fun and I’m excited to see how they evolve over different vintages.”
Julia Hoyle and Emily Grazier, Hosmer Winery
In 1972, Cameron and Maren Hosmer planted five acres of vines on their property, which slopes gently towards Cayuga Lake. Today, those plantings have expanded into 70 acres of vineyards meticulously maintained by the family. The fruit is a treat for those in the cellar like winemaker Julia Hoyle and assistant winemaker Emily Grazier. Julia, who joined the team in 2016, has worked methodically to enhance the Hosmer offerings, one wine at a time. Together, the pair is focused on fruit quality, and letting the grapes shine with minimal intervention, which is a welcomed task given the Hosmer’s aptitude for vineyard management.
Emily Doi, Hunt Country Vineyards
“It was a lot of small moments that got me into the industry,” says Emily Doi, the new assistant winemaker at Hunt Country Vineyards. “After working at a couple wineries in the region, doing everything from tasting room to vineyard jobs, I quickly fell in love with the production of wine,” says Emily, who joined the winery in 2018 as a tasting room server; she was promoted to her current role in 2022. “Every day is something different, and it's incredibly satisfying seeing your hard work turned into something so delicious and unique. Every harvest brings something new and exciting. Being able to experiment and adapt to what you're given every year is a challenge I love.”
Elizabeth Leidenfrost, Leidenfrost Vineyards
Elizabeth Leidenfrost is a third generation winemaker and grower at Leidenfrost Vineyards, where she works closely alongside her father, John Jr. as co-winemakers. The small family-owned farm has grown grapes since 1947, originally for Gold Seal and Great Western wineries. While the winery still sells a portion of their plantings to others, they also grow and produce their own estate wines. With the rise of small family-owned vineyards, John Jr. diversified plantings to include the European vinifera grown today. The duo can be found in the tasting room sampling wines when not in the cellar or tending to the vines.
Abby Stamp, Lakewood Vineyards
Three generations across seven decades have cared for the family business of Lakewood Vineyards on Seneca Lake’s west side, including co-winemaker Abby Stamp. “The Finger Lakes region has a way of keeping people here or bringing them back,” says Abby, who has also worked in Oregon and New Zealand. She works alongside her father Chris and brother Ben, handcrafting wines as a team. “As the industry grows and gains national and international recognition, I can see the efforts of previous generations come to fruition. I believe we have an opportunity, and a responsibility, to keep up the momentum and push this region towards its full potential.”
Vanessa Hoffman, Knapp Winery & Vineyard
In 2021, Cole and Karen Wilson became the new owners of Cayuga Lake’s Knapp Winery. The Wilsons have plans to elevate Knapp to its best version yet, and this includes the recent hire of winemaker Vanessa Hoffman. The California native found a path to wine after college, has worked in all facets of the industry, and is excited to make waves. “I wanted to be part of a growing and developing region when ordinary people could start projects and experiment with wine styles. I feel so grateful to be welcomed into this community of innovators, farmers, and artists, and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for the Finger Lakes.”
Kim White and Paige Vinson, Three Brothers Wineries & Estates
Two weeks before the 2018 harvest, Kim White took on the role of head winemaker at Three Brothers Wineries & Estates. Paige Vinson joined her as assistant winemaker, and the two got right to work. Powerhouse female leadership seems standard for Three Brothers, which is co-owned by Luanne Mansfield and Erica Paolicelli, alongside their husbands. The property boasts three wineries, a brewery, and a cafe alongside 40 acres of planted vines. Over the years, Kim and Paige have worked to make delicious wine while honoring influential female voices through the Women of Distinction series.
Update: Page Vinson has moved on from Three Brothers. Eli Bombard is the new Assistant Winemaker working alongside Kim Marconi.
Taylor Stember, Anthony Road Wine Company
Over the years, Anthony Road has grown their family business while providing access to a new generation of makers in the region. “Not only is there a more diverse range of winemakers and grape growers, but the older generation is opening up their platforms for a young and eager workforce to come in and get their hands dirty,” says assistant winemaker Taylor Stember, who is included in the new generation. “The Finger Lakes are also fiercely and unapologetically female. From the vineyards to the cellar to sales teams, women are making their mark on this region. It's an incredibly special thing to be a part of.”