Bâtonnage: many students of wine studies know this as a French term for stirring the lees. It’s also an appropriate name for the annual one-day forum founded by Sarah Bray and Stevie Stacionis in 2018. Both Bray and Stacionis have spent their combined careers in multiple facets of the food and beverage industry, covering everything from marketing and writing to retail and hospitality. It was only natural for this duo in a mostly male-dominated environment to “stir” up the status quo and provide a space for women to enjoy forward-thinking conversation and career networking.
From 2018 to 2019, Bâtonnage was a one-day forum held in Napa, CA, broaching topics ranging from negotiation to work-life balance to the role of sex in sales. As has been the case with many others, 2020’s event pivoted to a virtual platform. Re-named Batonnage://Connect, the team pulled together month-long programming featuring speakers and breakout sessions.
With the program’s growth over the past few years, Katie Canfield, Rebecca Johnson, and the team at O’Donnell-Lane now run the forum, allowing Bray and Stacionis to build on upcoming initiatives including the launch of their new Mentorship Program. Inspired by what she witnessed in between sessions, Bray explains, “We created a community and network, but the downtime at the event was just as valuable for people as the sessions.”
For anyone inspired to work in wine, food, or cocktails, it’s easy to feel limited to work in a restaurant. But that’s a fallacy, and many people aren’t exposed to the other options out there. Bray says, “When you’re not from wine country, you don’t realize there’s a career path other than restaurants. I grew up in Atlanta, and I didn’t know I could apply my passions and skills and interests.”
The program encourages applicants for both mentors and mentees in five different subject levels helmed by those who have extensive experience in the subject: cellar management and production headed by Priyanka French, viticulture with Mary Maher, hospitality with Tonya Pitts, retail with Stacionis, and sales and marketing with Bray herself. The first round of programming hopes to provide a platform simply to learn more about that niche in the industry. It’s a sort of virtual coffee date with an inspiring colleague to learn more of what they do and how they got to where they are.
“How many of us around the world can say, I landed a great job and with good mentors that propelled me forward, and how many more of us are out there? People even just thinking about the wine industry or have been working weekends in a shop and want to get into sales but don’t know how to build a P&L,” reflects Bray. “The idea for our Level I, I’ve been calling it speed dating. Just one-hour sessions for candid questions and hopefully, that may lead to further connections down the road.”
When coffee dates, happy hours, and networking events are few and far between, the Mentorship Program aims to broaden people’s networks both nationally and globally. Mentors have signed on worldwide, hailing from wine regions such as Burgundy, Italy, to Niagara-on-the-Lake. Those who choose to move forward with the program can look forward to Level II and III launching in 2021. Mentees can get awarded internships, job opportunities, or training programs, all thanks the program’s recent partnership with Napa Valley Vintners.
The goal is to reach those who love wine and want to figure out how to turn it into a career—a real possibility even in times of uncertainty. Bâtonnage has always aimed to network, connect, and stir the metaphorical lees to match the right individual with the right solutions among a marginalized demographic. In keeping with an inclusive mission, the program has set aside 50 percent of its placements for BIPOC. Applications are due on December 1st, and all information and resources can be found at https://www.batonnageforum.com/mentorship-program.
Bray finishes, “You want to set the table, but also make it larger and more inclusive. So you have to go out and find the people. Reaching out to mentors and announcing this to mentees is to find the people out there that want to be a part of it.”