In this episode of “End Of Day Drinks,” VinePair’s editorial team is joined by Stevie Stacionis and Sarah Bray of Bâtonnage. Bâtonnage is a mentorship program that seeks to stir up conversations surrounding women in wine. Stacionis and Bray explain that, in response to issues the wine industry faces on diversity, inclusion, and equity, they decided to create a mentorship and educational program for women-identifying people working in the wine industry.
Bâtonnage has three levels of mentorship in various disciplines that include sales and marketing, retail, hospitality, viticulture, and production. Tune in to hear Stacionis and Bray discuss mentorship and what’s next for Bâtonnage.
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Keith Beavers: Hey, everybody! Welcome to “End of Day Drinks.” My name is Keith Beavers, and I am the tasting director of VinePair and the host of the “Wine 101” podcast. Today, we are joined by Stevie Stacionis and Sarah Bray of Bâtonnage. It’s a mentorship program, and I cannot wait to get into it. Today, we are also joined by people in our editorial team. We are joined by Emma Cranston, Joanna Sciarrino, Tim McKirdy, Katie Brown, Cat Wolinski, and Adam Teeter, the CEO of VinePair.
All: Hello, hi!
Sarah Bray: Excited to be here, thank you for having us.
Beavers: I am so, so excited that you guys are here. I’ve known the two of you for a long time, and I’m just so excited to talk to you about this initiative that you guys built. You two amazing people have built something amazing. I think we need to really talk about it, because it’s really, really important. It’s a mentorship program called Bâtonnage. I think we should get it out. What is it that you guys built?
Bray: No, I mean, I think we could start off with just the idea of Bâtonnage, which, you know, is Stevie’s brainchild, so I’ll let her kick it off.
Stacionis: It’s fair to stumble over how to even introduce it, because honestly, I really didn’t know what I was doing when I started it, which is actually pretty typical for me. I tend to have a vague idea of something great that someone should totally do. I would have no idea how they should do it, but they should. I like to think of myself as an instigator. I instigate people getting things done. In this case, I kept trying to instigate it, and everybody would say “no, when are you doing that thing that you said?” To backtrack, I think there was a perfect storm around the #MeToo Movement, around the 2016 election, and around my own son’s traumatic birth also in 2016. I ended up having a pretty tumultuous 2017, in the world, personal life, and professional life. Then, I sat on another podcast at the end of 2017 and talked about the year in review. One of the questions was “what would you like to see happen in 2018?” I said, “I would really love to see somebody do some events, spur a conversation about issues that women in the wine industry are facing specifically.” Many people listened to that podcast and kept asking me, “So when is that thing that you mentioned happening?” People kept saying you should do it. You should totally do that thing. It kept turning back on me, and I was the right person for it. As I said, I launched something that I really didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t even have a full vision for it. I just knew that conversations needed to happen, and they weren’t happening yet. I felt that if we approached it with a sense of positivity, inclusiveness, and this idea of forwarding progress rather than dwelling on negative historical events and bad shit, that we could maybe make a change in the industry. I invited my team at Bay Grape, which was almost all women at the time. I asked, “Do you want to sit and brainstorm with me? We can figure out what we want to talk about, how we might frame this conversation?” I’m getting very wordy, but essentially, we thought that maybe five to 15 people would join us in this afternoon of drinking and having conversations. It morphed into an event of over 300 people about six months later.
Beavers: Amazing, so that was the first time?
Stacionis: That was the first time. It became clear that a lot of people wanted to have these conversations and try to figure out a more positive, inclusive path forward for our industry. Then, Sarah is one of my absolute best friends, who I very conveniently met at Alphabet City Wine Company when I was working there. Sarah became my best friend after coming into the shop frequently and buying things that I thought were awesome. Eventually, we ended up hiring Sarah to take my place. Sarah and I went on to be very close friends and accomplices. While I was scheming all of this, I called Sarah a lot. I needed her help. “I don’t know what I’m doing.” Very quickly, as I am apt to do in our friendship, I roped her in.
Bray: I met up with her in May, and the event was in July, so we made it happen.
Stacionis: That’s a really long backstory framing up the inception. Essentially, Bâtonnage exists as a forum for what we call “stirring it up.” Bâtonnage: to stir, right? The idea was that there is this dead or no-longer-working-for-us dysfunctional background in our history. If we can stir up this conversation around it, we could, in the same way Bâtonnage wine creates freshness, give some life, character, and texture to wine. We could do that for our industry, so it was focused on issues that women or those who identify as women face in the wine industry. Now it’s grown into this more inclusive movement, talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion and figuring out ways to actually chart meaningful, positive, and forward progress. The mentorship program specifically has blossomed out of that conversation. I think we said the mentorship program is a way to stir our conversations about equality actions and create equity. Boom!
Beavers: I love it!
Bray: It was a really natural evolution. The topics that we were tackling in the actual event itself, which was in-person in 2018 and 2019, then moved to virtual, our partners put on a wonderful over-four-week Bâtonnage Connect discussion. The topics are not necessarily cocktail party conversations. We are talking about things like: “How do you negotiate and advocate for yourself better?” “What are the pathways to inclusion?” “Sexuality and wine sales.” “Departing dysfunctional relationships.” It was a natural evolution to think about what was next — to capitalize on this community that we built with fantastic people at all stages of their careers, some very advanced, some in new stages, and create pathways for change that we were talking about and wanting to see. Within a pretty short period of time, we pulled together a really amazing team of people and launched this first quarter or first level-one mentor. We can detail that a bit more for you and talk about all that we’re doing there. However, like the forum itself, it was an idea. All right, let’s go.
Beavers: That’s just amazing.
Stacionis: My perspective on everything has been, look, we all know this is a thing. Let’s just do something about it. I often ignore the walls or challenges that might be facing me and say “this needs a solution.” And we’ll just sort of tackle it in the sense of knowing these conversations are going on. Why aren’t we trying to be open? The same thing with the mentorship program. I already know that mentorship needs to happen. Let’s just make a program that solves that. Of course, all of the details and the in-between logistics can become much more formidable than I anticipated, which is where I really rely on Sarah.
Bray: I’m a really good wing woman.
Stacionis: I do have to say we have this amazing team, and I’m the instigator. OK, let’s do it. I have to believe, then push everybody and say, “OK, flesh out what we don’t know how to do.” It’s been amazing to call on all of our team that’s working with us on this and say, “OK, I don’t know what I’m doing, but I have a lot of enthusiasm. You know what you’re doing in this particular part, you want to get involved, so let’s just bring everybody together.” It’s been really powerful and amazing to see our whole team with so many different backgrounds make something so much bigger than what I ever thought it could be.
Bray: It’s interesting because we all have different areas of focus and ways that our own careers have developed. I mentioned we did what we have dubbed “passing the baton” between ‘19 and ‘20. Katy Canfield or Rebecca Johnson from O’Donnell Lane actually took over the running of the forum. They’ve been now part of this core team of thinkers and shapers and helping lead a lot of the conversation. Then, when we started the mentorship program, Priyanka French, who’s the winemaker at Signorello, was also having this same conversation with some of the Napa Valley Vintners and thinking through what we could do locally. This event has always happened in Napa. Obviously, people have flown in, and being virtual made it possible. I think we reached 600-plus people this year, many outside of the California area, a few even outside of the U.S. She spoke on a panel where mentorship was brought up as well. It’s this great melding of the minds. She’s done a really good job of pushing this forward and charting a great path. Then, because she is a winemaker, she knows that cellar production side. Between Stevie’s retail background, my background in sales and marketing, Priyanka’s cellar and production experience, we rounded out at least our core committee in this initial year with Marimar, who’s the long-time viticultural manager for the Harlan family of wineries, and Tonya Pitts, who is the wine director at One Market to bring in someone to lead the way with the hospitality discussion. And then on the viticultural side, we are trying to be holistic in our approach to thinking about the business of wine here.
Emma Cranston: Hey y’all, this is Emma. I just wanted to hop in real quick because I was actually really impressed with your mentorship programs and the number of fields you offer training in. I’m especially curious how Covid has affected any hands-on learning opportunities in your specific fields, that being the retail and hospitality programs. Can you explain to our listeners what these mentorship programs offer and any challenges that the pandemic has created for you?
Stacionis: I’ll jump in and say it was roughly perfect timing. Something did work out in terms of the pandemic, because to back up from the entire program, we have three levels. Level one, we think of ourselves as a network and connecting people to resources and having informational interviews. Then, level two goes a step deeper into what actually pairs up specific mentors with mentees rather than allowing mentees to speak with as many mentors as they want. Level two will start to get more hands-on, but it’s really about helping them identify what area they need to focus on in terms of their work experience. For example, building their resumes to further solidify them as potential leaders in the wine industry. Then, level three is the most hands-on experience, almost like an internship. There will be placements in particular settings. For me in retail, someone will come on as an intern here in selling wine. In viticulture, it might be going out and working at harvest or doing an entire spring season with pruning. With that framework in place, you can see then how level one, which we’re actually wrapping in five days, works even better with the pandemic because we could have formidable mentors on and let them do three Zoom sessions reaching up to 60 people. Then, naturally flow from that to having some follow-up email questions, or can we actually have a phone call after that based on the mentor’s availability. Our program, in that sense, was greatly enhanced thanks to the pandemic and the virtual nature of last year. Now, as level two evolves, we’re kind of lucky because there are some things opening up and a lot of hope to still be held remotely. I think we’ve all seen that many things that we didn’t think can be done remotely, actually can. In-person things will be much more one-on-one, and you can still distance and wear a mask. Hopefully, by the time late this year rolls around, we’ll be able to do more of those really impressive level-three internships at the same time that we’re actually ready and on track for that level three to roll out.
Bray: To Stevie’s point, we’ve been candid and transparent with both our mentors and mentees that this is a work in progress. They are part of figuring this out. We’ve really dedicated this year to a trial. I’m sure a lot of errors are going to occur as well. The largest pool that we’re able to reach is this coffee date, level one. The virtual format has really been wonderful with a lot of people’s work schedules and work lives changing. At least on the mentor side, we’ve given them carte blanche with how they want to run their own sessions. Some are more formal.”Here are two sessions you can join, we’ll be talking about these topics.” We had one person set up her own panels. I think Shelley Lindgren‘s doing a weekly, virtual happy hour with her mentees. Anitha Gandhi is doing the same thing on Mondays with check-ins on different topics. The panel provided people the ability to connect in the ways that they were most comfortable and most available to do that with. That was great. Now, some were still in-person. If you’re in the viticultural program, I know Marimar met with a lot of folks one-on-one outside in the vineyards and talked about things like that. It was adaptable. There are challenges with people outside of the U.S. that are part of the program. We’ll see what happens down the line when we’re looking to help people with placements. I know we had one woman in India who loved this opportunity. I think she joined every possible call she could, just to learn about the industry at large. A lot of people on the mentee side really looked at this as an opportunity to shift their focus. They can use this as an opportunity to learn about retail or some of these other businesses. I think it was a great networking opportunity for a lot of people as well.
Stacionis: Absolutely. I think Sara is right. I think we helped set the tone. Before every event or anything we put out, we give that disclaimer of this is a work in progress. We’re all still learning. We all make mistakes. I usually say something along the lines of, you will be upset by something or something wasn’t offered to you. That’s great. We want that feedback. This should always evolve. I would rather get it started and have lots of imperfections that we improve upon, than not get it started from fear of making those mistakes.
Adam Teeter: Hey Stevie, it’s Adam. Obviously, both of you have full-time jobs. Stevie, you’re in the midst of opening your second wine shop location. Sarah, you’re pursuing Masters of Wine. What’s the vision long-term for the organization? I assume it has a 501(c)(3) status, but is the idea to grow it? Install an executive director? We’re really curious here on the editorial team how you take this amazing idea and keep pushing it forward. If you’ve given thought to that, as well as what the organization might look like in 5 to 10 years?
Bray: Yeah, we think about this a lot. It’s one of the reasons that we did the whole “pass the baton” initiative, because, after two years of doing this, I think in our second year, she was about to open a restaurant. I was traveling 280 days of the year, and it was an insane year. We both felt we had started something, believed in this, and created this community, but we didn’t necessarily have the bandwidth to carry it on on our own. That concept was born, and the idea is to have it continue moving forward. Every several years, there will be another group of people that we will pass the baton on to who will just be part of our growing family of people running Bâtonnage. That’s why we’ve involved more and more people. You made the comment about the 501(c)(3). We’re actually in the last stages of getting that set up right now. We’ve always run this as a volunteer-run without any official formation. As it has continued to grow, we’ve seen the need to formalize that. We actually just submitted the paperwork today for that with our organizing board of directors and officers within that. Now we are in the fundraising stages.
Stacionis: We’re looking for money.
Teeter: How do people give?
Bray: Well, we had a generous donation over the course of three years from Napa Valley Vintners to support this, which is a matching donation. It was really part of the impetus for the 501(c)(3), to be honest. People wanting to know how to contribute, and realizing we needed to formalize it and put pen to paper about what this platform was about. We’ve got a partnership with Nomadica that is actually hitting shelves in April, where they’ve generously donated product, allowing us to make some money off of that. There are beautiful packages Stevie worked on with their designer and the photographer, Alicia Sommer, with some information about the Bâtonnage mentorship program on there. We’re in the process of seeking out other synergistic partners, whether it’s going to be people who want to host virtual tastings with us or give $10,000. Also, help us find a way to host appropriate level-three mentor internship opportunities. It’s all a work in progress because we really believe in what we’ve built, the community, in collaborating and having as many co-conspirators as possible so it can continue to have legs. Also, trying to figure out the organizing principles to keep it going, because you’re right, everybody is a little busy.
Stacionis: To very directly answer your question, they can go to batonnageforum.com. There’s a big “Show Your Support By Making a Pledge Here” button. They can also email Sarah because she’s taking care of all the corporate sponsorships and partnerships.
Teeter: Amazing. It’s awesome you’re working with Nomadica, too. They’re one of our favorite wine brands, and Kristin’s awesome. That’s really cool that partnership is happening.
Stacionis: She’s one of our mentors.
Beavers: How do you promote Bâtonnage?
Stacionis: Things like this. Anything. Everything. Always. Everybody that meets me, I’m like, “Oh, we’re doing the thing. You should tell people about it.” Social media to retail partnerships, any press. Conversations like this. If you have more ideas, please tell them to us.
Bray: The beauty of having such a big team is that we are all proactively pursuing our own channels. Katie and Rebecca spoke with château. We are just trying to tap into any opportunity that comes our way and finding the best fit within our organization to speak to the audience.
Tim McKirdy: This is Tim speaking, I have a quick follow-up question to some of the stuff you mentioned earlier. You pointed out that this is ever-evolving, and you’re learning as you go along. I was just wondering when it comes to the program, how are you tracking the success and the impact? Is that something as simple as the number of mentees that you’re able to run through the program? Are there other ways that you’re charting that?
Bray: I can jump in. Stevie mentioned that we’re wrapping the level-one first-time go around. A big part of that is really having to do with having a series of forums and different things that we are submitting both to the mentors and to the mentees. Also, seeing how many people signed up and participated in the program. We also know who has participated in all of the events online as well. Creating benchmarks, creating ways of tracking the growth over time, is very important to us. It’s also important in terms of some of our donor requests or knowing who we’re servicing and how we’re growing and where we’re growing. We’ve also made an internal commitment to make sure that a portion of our placement opportunities ultimately goes to the BIPOC community. It is important for us to track and know that we are making the change that we seek. Stevie and I have talked a lot about “How do we create the next iteration of what we want our industry to look like?” OK, fine. It doesn’t exist right now, so we have to put things into place in order to get people and this industry where we want it to be. Thus, we can have people in those management positions, we can hire the people that we’re looking for, and create that ladder in that channel that doesn’t exist right now.
Stacionis: Also, not coming from a corporate background, a lot of this data may exist at very large companies but doesn’t exist at a lot of small ones or organizations like mine. There isn’t a lot of data out there. There are some pretty good organizations doing work in parallel with our efforts at Bâtonnage. The Diversity and Leadership Forum. Our friends Miriam and Elaine have compiled all of the different organizations doing this work and their amazing diversity in food and beverage is an organization specifically that’s working in the U.S. to actually start accumulating this data on a more industry-wide scale and witness what is happening.
Bray: Obviously, it’s going to be an optional portion of our feedback forms, but we are including questions that are defocused so that we can begin to build the database that doesn’t exist. There are people focusing on this in different ways, more and more. Without the data at hand, it’s going to be hard to track the changes. Trying to plug it into all the things we do, where we can, and where it’s appropriate.
Joanna Sciarrino: Hi, this is Joanna. I was just wondering, I know you’re in the planning stage for the 2021 forum, but what could people expect for that?
Bray: Well, we’re working on the programming right now. That’s what Rebecca and Katie are helming. We’ve divided and conquered. They’re in their second year of another digital iteration. This year, they did an amazing job and actually held multiple sessions over about four weeks. It’ll be a more condensed version of that this year but looking to continue the conversations about financial empowerment and diversity. They’re looking at an amazing lineup of speakers. I don’t want to have any spoiler alerts. June is the timing for that. It’ll be an interesting thing to watch. We’ll probably start all of our promotion around that in the May timeframe.
Cat Wolinski: Hey, this is Cat. What are some words that you think publishers and media companies can create? Not only the conversations around equity and representation in wine, but that action piece that’s needed.
Bray: Hire writers of color, hire women, pay well, have pay equity. It’s a lot of the same issues, right? I started in publishing in 2008. I moved to New York to write, and that was such a great career move, given what happened to publishing. That’s why I took a job at Alphabet City Wine Company. It helps pay the bills. There’s been a big movement since that time for people, for unpaid labor. We see it everywhere. “This is just free promotion for you. Do this, and we’ll get the word out for you.” We have to pay people for their work and their time and recognize that, even when it is for an editorial situation or a shoot. I think if you want more diversity, you have to be willing to help people pay their way and pay living wages for things and have fair rates and be transparent about your rates.
Stacionis: Those are definitely the answers, but I usually try to push things a step further, just because I love debate. First of all, I have a lot of friends who fit one of the minority checkboxes. Suddenly, everybody wants to talk to them because they’re the “woman winemaker” or if they’re the “black sommelier” or if they are the “disabled queer viticulturalist.” It’s annoying. There’s a lack of transparency often on the part of the press of “we know we’re supposed to be more diverse.” That’s great, but you’re not fixing the problem other than scratching the surface. To go a little deeper, I think that publications need to be writing about these exact issues. This is an issue, call it out. It’s a problem in our own industry, it’s a problem in our own business that we’re trying to figure out and this is our first step. Everybody needs to be paid more, I want to pay my people more, but I don’t have the money. My point always comes back to: the guests or the consumers need to understand the issues so that they are willing to pay more for the services. We, as businesses, can pay more for the people that are working for us, because it always comes back to me and it sucks. It sucks knowing that you’re part of the problem, but you can’t charge your guests more, because they’ll throw a fat fit. They won’t come in, they’ll give bad reviews, and it’s not worth the high price tag. This is literally what the problem is. If you want to go out to eat or you want to buy a bottle of wine, you’re going to need to pony up. I mean, pointing out that winemaker is not enough.
Bray: It’s back to your specific question about publishing, too. It’s trying to get people to understand what a paywall is. To pay your writers at the end of the day, you all know, I get that what I said has a trickle-down effect to the bottom line. There’s this gap in people’s awareness between what they’re paying for as a product or service, and how that impacts the workforce in any field.
Beavers: I love it. That’s the beauty of all this, just getting the conversation started is the first thing. Watching where it’s going is just incredible, and people like you are actually making that conversation move forward in the right direction. Not only in the right direction, but with the right approach and with all the right ideas about it. I love the idea of Stevie saying, “I want to do this. How do I do it?” Every great idea started that way, and that’s just awesome.
Stacionis: Thank you. I would also just play with people. The world is so negative right now, people are so fast to bully each other on their mistakes. It’s calling people out instead of inviting them in. I hate it. Let’s just start the conversation and be loving about it. Let’s just say this is a problem. I know that I haven’t done everything that I can to fix it. I made a lot of mistakes, and I’m going to keep doing it. But I care, I really care. I want to have difficult conversations, and I want other people to chime in with their own thoughts that will spur me forward instead of holding me down or back. I would like everyone listening to not be scared. It’s a very scary place, but if you approach it with an open heart and a real desire to do better, hopefully the people that you interact with will see that as well and will meet that and join that. And if they don’t, just know that you’re not alone in somebody critiquing you. I’ve cried so many times. I’ve really f*cked up (I don’t’ know if I can say that). It’s so scary. It’s so hard to get back up after you’re like, “I did this wrong. I don’t know what this word means. I don’t know how to use it.” I’ve called people “hey you guys” instead of “hey, y’all” or “hey you people.” We have to make mistakes. And we have to be like, “hey, it’s fine, no problem. Come on back to the party. We’re going to make this better altogether.”
Bray: Well, as the southerner on the call, I am all for “y’all” being just the way we talk about everybody. Greatest gift to the English language.
Beavers: This is the perfect way to end this conversation. Stevie, that was awesome. I just wanted to thank you guys so much for coming onto this podcast. It’s so important what y’all are doing. I can’t wait to watch it grow even more.
Stacionis: Yes. Thank you so much for having us! Thanks for spreading the word. It’s really humbling, and I’m seriously so honored.
Bray: I’ll just do one more plug for your listeners. Bâtonnage is spelled with T and two n’s. Go check out batonnageforum.com, I encourage you to check us out. We have all of our past recordings, audio from the first two live events, video from this year. There’s a lot of good stuff there. We also welcome new ideas. This is an iterative process that we hope to keep growing from. We thank you all for your interest and your support, and we look forward to a toast in person at some point. An “EOD Drink” together in person.
Beavers: Nice, nice, cool, guys. Thank you.
Stacionis: Cool y’all.
Bray: Thank y’all.
Published: April 2, 2021