“I want women to know this is a viable career option,” explains Casey Cobble matter of factly regarding winemaking. It’s important in a world where writers often portray females as “winemakerettes”, a side-show to the main event, or they’re conveying a sense of “nice winemaking…..for a girl”.
Casey, winemaker at Robert Ramsay Cellars, tells Washington State Beer and Wine the truth about winemaking as a career in this Q & A.
Did you have a career before you entered the wine industry?
I was 24 years old when I started the program at South Seattle College (Northwest Wine Academy), so I was only a couple years out of college (UW), but before wine I was a strength and conditioning coach at a couple of local gyms. I came from an athletic background and although I loved working with my clients, I felt like I was doing the same thing every day and I quickly burned out.
Why did you consider the wine industry?
I liked wine since I was legally allowed to drink it, and my interest in winemaking began when I was across the tasting bar from a winemaker in Eastern Washington. He was telling me about his life and what goes into being a winemaker and I remember thinking, “I want that.” It seemed to be the perfect intersection between physical work, science, and creativity. And with the cyclical nature of wine, every day is different.
How did you transition into the wine industry?
My transition into the wine industry was a little round-about. When I left the fitness industry, I got a tasting room job at Columbia Winery while I took classes at South Seattle College. I thought it would be a good way to keep learning about wine “on the job” and still pay the rent, but looking back on it, I wish I would have jumped into winemaking instead of working in a tasting room. But, being just out of college and living paycheck to paycheck, I am not sure I could have lived the harvest seasonal intern life for long. After completing the South Seattle College program, I was extremely lucky to get a harvest internship at Betz Family Winery and then after the internship ended I was hired by Bob Betz for a hybrid cellar/customer service position. When looking to transition into a full-time cellar position, I noticed that a lot of job postings were written in ways that were covertly exclusionary of women in the industry. Job requirements included things like being able to lift and carry 70 pounds (which I can, but I am smart enough to use tools that we have in the cellar to lift it for me). I was lucky to meet Bob Harris of Robert Ramsay Cellars though a South Seattle College classmate and he hired me as winemaker in 2014.
Describe your job.
Harvest is a really special time of year. It is exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. Outside harvest, some days I am tinkering with things in the cellar, some days I am talking with customers at release parties, there are blending trials with Bob, group tastings with Bob, Sue and Jonathan, and bottling with all our amazing volunteers. And some days I am travelling out to the vineyards and talking with growers (these days are my favorite). I also really love the problem solving aspect of winemaking at a small winery.
Who/what best prepared you for winemaking?
I have been extremely fortunate to work for and with some amazing people in the industry and have taken advantage of this by sponging all the knowledge I could from them. Bob Betz was a constant source of wisdom of all aspects of winemaking, but his values and his grace also made him a role model for life in general. Tyson Schiffner (former Assistant Winemaker for Betz Family Winery and current Head Brewer at Sumerian Brewing Company) not only taught me a lot about the mechanical side of winemaking, but also about hard work. Reggie Daigneault taught me that the industry is small so be nice to everyone (and to ALWAYS have a bottle of bubbles in the fridge–just in case). Peter Bos taught me that there is no problem that can’t be fixed with a little creativity. The entire program at South Seattle College gave me hands-on experience that was invaluable.
Do you have advice for someone interested in becoming a winemaker?
Get as much hands-on experience as you can. Learn many different ways to make wine. Don’t be so concerned about finding the style of wine you want to make; learn how to make many different styles. Winemaking is really hard work. It’s very physical, sometimes really long hours, and exhausting. It’s not all tasting and doing blending trials and playing in the vineyards. Very few of us are “rock star winemakers” and some of us don’t want to be.
Winemaking is a very physical job. Can you share with us some of those challenges and how you handle them?
I am pretty strong (not just “for a girl”) and I have no problem doing the things that my peers do, but I have learned to work smart and hard. No matter how strong or in shape you are, the long hours and no breaks during harvest break your body down. I have learned to take care of myself during harvest to minimize this. Also, my husband is in physical therapy and he fixes me a lot during harvest.
What is your proudest accomplishment as a winemaker?
I think my proudest moment as a winemaker is in the future, but here are some of the best moments: When someone tastes a wine I made and their eyes light up. When I change someone’s perception of what a winemaker is. When I meet with a grower to recap harvest and taste the wine from their vineyard and they are delighted and surprised – this last happened with Mike Sauer of Red Willow Vineyard, a grower I really respect.
Experience Robert Ramsay Cellars
If you like Rhône varieties (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Counoise), give the wines at Robert Ramsay Cellars a try at one of their two locations. In addition to the winery in Woodinville Wine Country’s Warehouse District, Robert Ramsay Cellars was one of the first Washington wineries to open a successful satellite tasting room in Seattle. It’s a great place to stop in and relax over a glass of wine and a cheese plate.
Queen Anne Wine Room
697 Queen Anne Ave North
Thursday – Friday 2-10
Woodinville Tasting Room
19495 144th Ave NE, Ste 235
Hours: Saturday 12-6 and Sunday 12-5