Shaping the Field

Martha Bannister

Posted on May 8, 2019

As a winemaker and enology entrepreneur, Marty Bannister truly helped pave the way for other women. Her work illuminates an important era in the history of California winemaking and unites genders and generations. And couldn’t we all use a little unity, these days?

According to researcher Ann Matasar, before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, California had fewer than five women winemakers, all self-taught and virtually unknown. When Marty Bannister hit the scene in the 1970s, along with such contemporaries as Heidi Barrett and Merry Edwards, she was one of mighty tribe of pioneering women.

In an industry of egos and titans, Marty has maintained a low-key profile. Along with comrade Mary Ann Graf, she founded the groundbreaking enological services business, Vinquiry laboratories (now Enartis) , a global company still used worldwide for wine analysis. Her impact in the field of enology is lasting. Subsequently, in 1989, she launched Bannister Wines.

When Marty became ill with Lyme disease, winemaking became more challenging. Since 2006, Marty has been passing the torch to her son Brook–a natural winemaker and ally to women in the biz.

Rather than engaging in a usual interview, Marty offered the following statement about her winemaking experience (below).


“The wine industry was an entirely new experience for me. Gary and I had located in Sonoma County after several years of out-of-state military, education and Vista volunteering had taken us away from California. With a master’s in food and nutrition, I was directed pretty quickly toward the wine industry. I was hired by Sonoma Vineyards, and within a fairly short time I was promoted to Director of Quality Control as part of the winemaking staff.

I took a period of time off after Brook was born, and I’d already had the thought of independent testing. We’d done some at Sonoma Vineyards for local wineries who didn’t have lab capability. When I started planning, I teamed up with MaryAnn Graf who had a similar idea. We formed Vinquiry. At the outset, I thought I would do this a few years when I needed to be in control of my time and then later get a job in winemaking. Our work at Vinquiry generated so much fascinating work and we had such acceptance in the industry, I just didn’t find a time I wanted to stop. I decided to do both in conjunction.

In making wine, I wanted to reflect what I’d learned and observed over a period of time. I most valued wines which were distinct as well as complex and supple. I really loved the challenge of making the kind of wine I chose to target.

Our work at Vinquiry generated so much fascinating work and we had such acceptance in the industry, I just didn’t find a time I wanted to stop. I decided to do both in conjunction.

A change arose when I developed Lyme disease and related thyroid problems. Like most things I dealt with, I thought I just had to figure it out and do the treatment. The problem became much more complex than that and forced me to give up winemaking.

I think Brook learned winemaking ‘organically’. He was surrounded by it growing up, seeing both the science side and production side. When he told me he wanted to make wine, he’d already lined up an incredible vineyard. When he took me there, I was astounded by the perfection of it. I was hooked.

I also think Brook, like me, has sensitive senses of smell and taste. It’s easy to see this repeating again with his son.

I don’t have a lot of thoughts on gender equity in the industry. I’ve known many highly successful women: winemakers, vineyard managers, scientists. … Being in a growth industry may have lessened the presence of gender tensions.

image for Shaping the Field

Bannister Wines

Martha Bannister

  • 101 Grant Avenue, Unit G