Come As You Are – Learnings from the 2019 Bâtonnage Forum

Come As You Are – Learnings from the 2019 Bâtonnage Forum

Photo Credit: Emma K Morris

Come as you are. Such was the edict given by the organizers of last weekend’s Bâtonnage Forum.

Founded by Oakland wine retailer Stevie Staconis, the second edition of the grassroots event is aimed at stirring up discussion around issues facing women in the wine industry.
So on a cool, crisp, and idyllic Napa Valley Saturday morning, 450 curious wine professionals came dressed in casual summer attire to gather and continue dialogue that had begun in the same private backyard setting one year prior.
But do not let the sweet sunshine and wine country chic setting fool you. Immediate admissions by the organizers of the courage shown to gather and consider these topics, soon meant that phones went down, pens and papers came out, and people were ready to listen and participate.
Writer and speaker, and Alaska Native (Unangan, Inupiat), Elaine Chukan Brown, moderated the opening panel with Vinny Eng and Laura Judson, navigating the subject of dysfunctional work environments. As Eng commented: “this is not about equality, this is about equity.”
The session raised many critical issues and was deftly reported by Jess Lander in her SevenFiftyDaily post, “Tactics for Handling Dysfunctional Workplaces." 
As an invited speaker, I addressed the subject: “Women Talk: who Listens?”.
Focused on sharing practical ways to harness confidence and finding the courage to speak up, what struck me was the power that was possible when people found their confidence and harnessed their breath to find their voice in the workplace.
For the many messages of thanks, came the occasional 1:1 conversation where women and men privately shared on their struggle to find a voice in the industry. This subject deserves its own post, but we have a long way to go to overcome the situations of manipulation of power and authority that still drives a fear of retribution and retaliation and leaves some feeling silenced.
The session “Pathways to Inclusion” and “Do You Sell Sex” raised their own debates, and encouraged audience members to step up, vote with their values, implement tangible measures, and hold companies accountable for driving toward an even more diverse workforce. You can read SevenFiftyDaily’s recap of the final session here: “How Women's Sexuality is Used to Sell Wine
The overwhelming response indicates that people are motivated and intentional for positive change, and that individuals at every level of the industry can contribute.

Through harnessing their voice, standing firm in their truth, and keeping eyes and ears open to support others at every opportunity, change is possible. And there exist allies and visible role models who are DOING it.
Reflecting on the conference, Elaine Chukan Brown, implored the need for community involvement to work hard for change:
“As community we need to admit to ourselves that we are all contributing to the problem. If we genuinely want to shift to the perspective of fostering respectful work environments, we have to be prepared to do the work, and challenge ourselves to see where we have implicit bias, so that we can care enough to shift that and be more open and inclusive.”
So what did I learn?

  • Diversity in our industry is possible, but we need to find it, encourage it, and wedge that door open. 

  • We have a real opportunity to learn how to drive change by listening to more diverse voices – and often voices may be quiet, but are powerful. 

  • These subjects runs way beyond the social and legal impacts of ingrained bias and behavior. There is power in voting with your truth and values.

  • Admitting vulnerability is relatively unknown for an industry that can be dominated by peer review, status, and scores. But it can also be incredibly powerful when shared in a supportive environment.

  • One focused idea can accelerate quickly to resonate across genders, cultures, generations, and professional roles. Keep the ideas coming, now is the time.

These topics are hard to tackle and require a diverse group of strong community members who are willing to carry the torch. As announced in the closing comments, the organizers plan to pass the Bâton(nage) to a new team. You can read more about future plans at “Apply Here” on their website.
So what can you do?
Keep the door wedged open and encourage others to walk through. Keep encouraging and continue the discussion in person, and at meeting tables across America.
And breathe. It’s the best way to find your voice. And we need a whole lot more of that.
Note: An audio recording of all sessions will be available on the Bâtonnage Forum website in the coming weeks, so check back on their site.

What We're Reading:

There's no shortage of wine stories and media inundating our IN Boxes. Here's what has piqued our interest this week.

You Will Never Smell My World The Way I Do – The New York

Scientists find that whiskey’s smokiness, the smell of beets and lily of the valley perfume can be utterly different depending on your genetic wiring. 

The War on Alcohol: Is this Prohibition 2.0 -

Author Joseph Micallef interviews Christopher Snowdon of the Institute of Economic Affairs in London on the slew of recent reports linking alcohol and health issues. Are they overstated? 

Meet the Tribe!

Our community is only as strong as the company we keep, and here we meet some of the folks who make our profession so dynamic.


Elaine Chukan Brown - Writer, Speaker, Illustrator, Wakawaka Wine Reviews (USA) 

Years In Industry:

My shift to working in wine began in 2012, after serving as full-time university faculty in philosophy. Today I serve as a writer, speaker, and illustrator of wine and social issues. In wine, while I travel, taste, and research wine globally, I have specialized in California, Oregon, and New Zealand. Beyond wine I am also often asked to speak on ethics and socio-political issues as in my previous career that was my focus. 

My Biggest Challenge To Wellness:

Both the research and speaking aspects of my work can make it challenging to find time for me to simply rejuvenate myself. Maintaining a balance of rest, nourishment, and quiet, while changing locales and focusing so heavily on the work of other people and other places can be difficult.

At the same time, I was raised commercial fishing for salmon in remote Alaska, starting at the age of 9. Because I began at such a young age doing such serious physical labor, I have a lot of innate endurance to handle travel and the work I do. But that has brought its own challenges.

Since leaving commercial fishing, I've had to re-teach and re-train myself to stay in tune with my own physical needs - to practice eating regularly, staying hydrated, and getting regular sleep to find a healthier overall balance. 

How I Keep It Together To Stay Well:

Currently I am following an AIP diet to focus on digestive health while also reducing overall body inflammation. At the same time, eating regularly during daylight hours proves very important for my overall stamina levels and physical comfort. I make sure to drink water regularly throughout the day and until bedtime. In order to ensure my nutrient levels are good, I get those tested twice a year, and adjust supplements if needed to maintain healthy vitamin B, vitamin D, vitamin C, magnesium, and iron levels - all of which help the body deal with stress more easily.

Several times a year I schedule a check-in appointment with a counselor I have had for twenty years - it is an easy way for me to stay committed to care for my own mental and spiritual health while also ensuring I have a place to find extra support if more challenging circumstances arise. 

 You can connect with Elaine on Instagram at @hawk_wakawaka or at her website:

Let’s Meet Up!

As work life has it, we are traveling over the next few months and would love to see you.  

  • Attendee at Vinventions Summit in Liège, Belgium, May 29 to June 3 (Beck)

  • Presenter at Chile Uncorked, NOLA Style in New Orleans, June 5 to 7 (Cathy)

  • Presenter at the CDO Executive Summit, in Atlanta June 26 (Cathy)

  • Attendee at Fine Minds 4 Fine Wines in Bordeaux, July 4 to 6 (Cathy)

  • Emcee at Australia Decanted in Lake Tahoe, October 6 to 9 (Cathy)

 Drop a line to or if you are interested in getting together for practice, a chat or a great glass together.

Your Very Own Superpower, and How to Get It

Your Very Own Superpower, and How to Get It

Taking My Own Advice: Let's Get Physical (Therapy)

Taking My Own Advice: Let's Get Physical (Therapy)