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Wine Industry

California women in wine group looking to “Pass the Baton-nage”

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Stevie Stacionis at Bay Grape Napa

Stevie Stacionis, co-owner of Bay Grape Napa and founder of Bâtonnage.

As an organization breaking gender barriers and encouraging fresh conversations in wine, it is important to the leaders of Bâtonnage to constantly be stirring the pot. And with Bâtonnage being the French word for stirring lees back into wine, it is safe to say the organization is well-attuned to the idea.

Established as a one-time, one-day forum back in 2017, Bâtonnage has grown far beyond the initial idea brought to life by founders Stevie Stacionis and Sarah Bray. What started as a way to connect women in wine to discuss the industry’s gendered challenges has since grown into a community of badass people, a tradition of conversation-starting, and even a mentorship program.

However, after fielding proposals and applications for the 2022 and 2023 forums, Bâtonnage will be passing their baton-nage to a new leadership team in early January.

“It was such an honor to be able to put our touch on the direction of the forum in 2020 and 2021, but it is with greater anticipation to pass the baton-nage and experience how another team expands on what the forum has covered in the past four years and put their own personal touch on this next iteration," said Rebecca Johnson, current forum orchestrator and partner of wine marketing firm O'Donnell Lane. 

“This initiative of 'passing the baton-nage' is a perfect illustration of what Bâtonnage stands for: community," said Johnson's co-leader and partner at O'Donnell, Katie Canfield. 

"There is no community without collaboration, and I look forward not only to the fresh vision that the new orchestrators will bring, but also the strong network of people and resources that our organization can provide to ensure their success in leading the forum,” she said. 

In addition to the current leading ladies, the original forum founders are also looking forward to this new generation of their brainchild.

“No matter how much I try to diversify my perspective and recruit other voices, I am one person with one perspective,” said Stevie Stacionis, who co-owns the wine shop Bay Grape and initially founded Bâtonnage alongside Sarah Bray. “I might hear and try to receive a lot from others, but I am still just me.”

Even after passing on these forum duties, though, Stacionis, Bray, Canfield, and Johnson won’t be completely stepping away from the organization, as these wine professionals and the rest of the Bâtonnage team are and always will be fiercely passionate about elevating other women in the industry.

“Right now we’re preparing a whole diversity, equity, and inclusion training program that we will offer to our mentors, but also to the community at large,” said Stacionis. “We hope we can kind of set the tone and standard for the basics of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) in the industry, and now we are trying to kind of rewrite our mission.”

Bâtonnage also recently launched the third level of its mentorship program, partnering with Domaine Carneros to place a mentee within the Napa winery next year.

“You can’t just hire diverse people, and you certainly can’t just hire diverse people and put them into a leadership position within an organization or an industry that has not celebrated that diversity and hasn’t made it a safe place for them to be their own people,” said Stacionis. “You need to start way back a few chapters and build the building blocks culturally, organizationally, and industry-wide … The mentorship program is specifically designed for that, because we realize that the traditional notion of mentorship is like, ‘Oh let’s just hire a girl and put her into a role within an organization.’”

“But first of all, you’re only recruiting people that already know to be looking at you — What about all the people who don’t even know that wine is a career?”

Thus, with this multi-level mentorship program, Bâtonnage hopes to get some new faces in wine.

“We’re specifically working on targeting different colleges, universities and even high schools around the country,” said Stacionis.

This need for fresh faces is a bit convoluted, though, especially following the recent sexual harassment allegations and resulting expulsion of multiple high-ranking Master Sommeliers … one of whom was actually the catalyst for the creation of Bâtonnage.

“I worked for the Guild of Sommeliers, so that is a real minefield of emotions right now,” said Stacionis. “I feel really challenged right now because they helped shape my career a little bit … and it feels stickier because Bâtonnage literally stemmed out of a Guild of Sommeliers year-end podcast that was led by Geoff Kruth.”

When working as a content creator for GuildSomm, Stacionis was able to start a lot of conversations surrounding the treatment of women in the wine industry, and during the aforementioned end-of-2016 podcast, unintentionally created the organization and appointed herself leader.

Each year on this podcast — of which Stacionis was a recurring guest — Kruth would ask what the panelists were hoping to get rid of when they rang in the New Year, as well as what they wanted to see happen. So, in the wake of the 2016 election, the onset of the MeToo movement, and while struggling with the miracle (yet traumatic) birth of her son, Stacionis went off.

She had just attended the Cherry Bombe Jubilee — a conference for women in food — and wanted to see something like that for wine.

“He asked what do you want to see happen in the New Year, and I was like, you know, with all the sh*t that is happening with the election, with Me Too, with my own challenges, with talking to other women about what's going on, I really think it would be great if someone would create a daylong forum addressing the challenges and opportunities that women face in the wine industry and we can hash all of this out,” recalls Stacionis.

“Then I started getting emails and tweets and DMs ... I didn’t think I was going to be the one to actually DO it,” she said.

Alas, Stacionis and Bray’s friends banded together to put on that first Bâtonnage forum, “like six months after I made the mistake of saying that on the podcast,” she jokes.

Discomfort and guilt aside following Kruth’s resignation and the more recent expulsion of six other Court of Master Sommeliers members, Stacionis says she is still proud of a lot of this work that she did that led to the creation of Bâtonnage.

“I still feel very proud of a lot of the content that we created and the way that we pushed the industry forward, and yet now there’s this other dark side,” she said. “I had this horribly awkward spiral down of despair when the news came out … but Bâtonnage did open up the conversation and those conversations are now pushing forward in ways that are, I think, cutting edge.”

This Napa family is crazy for blow molds and inflatables for Christmas and the holiday season. Check out their elaborate yard display. Their house is located at the corner of Shetler/Russell in east Napa.

You can reach Sam Jones at 707-256-2221 and sjones@napanews.com

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Napa Valley wine industry reporter

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