Women in Wine, Beer and Spirits to Celebrate
From trailblazing distillers to brilliant brewers and viniculture virtuosos, we are peering behind the bottle and identifying women in the wine, beer and spirit industry who you should be watching. Some are pioneers, reversing traditionally male-dominated roles. Others are tastemakers, crafting innovative and palatable recipes that expand what we think of varietals and blends. All of them are worth celebrating for their accomplishments and achievements.
Melissa Stackhouse | SIMI Winery
Melissa Stackhouse, Director of Winemaking at SIMI Winery, began her career in the wine industry after an “aha moment,” realizing she could combine her love of the outdoors, agriculture and science with her desire for creative expression. Since her revelation, she has led winemaking at some of California’s top wineries, including Meiomi, La Crema, Clos du Bois, J Vineyards & Winery and Jackson Family Wines. In her current role, she embraces every opportunity to honor the heritage of Sonoma County’s most historic wineries and is driven to deliver wines that embody the test of time, taste and terroir.
Nicole Austin | Cascade Hollow Distillery
Since joining the Cascade Hollow Distilling Co. in 2018, Nicole Austin has crafted one of the most sought-after, seasonal release whiskies – George Dickel Bottled in Bond Whisky, named after a law guaranteeing the quality of whisky. Bottled in Bond was Nicole’s first project with Cascade Hollow, winning Whisky Advocate’s 2019 Whisky of the Year as well as being named a Best Buy from Wine Enthusiast with a 95-point rating. To say she knows what she is doing may be a cataclysmic understatement. She respects the long history and heritage of the Dickel brand, but is not afraid to evolve the spirit. If you’re looking for Dickel product to enjoy year-round, pick up their best sellers George Dickel No. 8 Tennessee Whisky and George Dickel No. 12 Tennessee Whisky, available at your local ABC.
Cynthia Lohr | J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines
As Chief Brand Officer and Co-Owner for J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, Cynthia Lohr looks to influence in every department of the brand and beyond. She is an advocate for women in the industry through the Touching Lives program as well as working on the advisory committee for Dream Big Darling. She believes, “As natural multi-taskers, women bring both hard and soft skills in the industry.” Her favorite part of her job is “meeting passionate women who are seizing opportunities available to them." Family values of service and giving back to the community, along with her two daughters and J. Lohr’s charitable organization are what Cynthia envisions for future legacy.
Hollie Stephenson | Guinness Irish Stout
Not only is Hollie Stephenson taking on the role of an Irish icon as the head brewer at Guinness’ U.S. Brewery, she is also dominating the beer scene, being named 2019 Beer Person of the Year by Imbibe Magazine. Hollie’s career pivoted when she was assigned to develop a business plan for a brewery while working at a non-profit. She quickly shifted her career focus to the beer world and began studying the craft in England. She worked for both Stone Brewing and Highland Brewing, and ultimately landed a position as Head Brewer for Open Gate Brewery in August 2017. She now plays a key role in the production of hop-forward beers in the world of Guinness.
Jamie Benziger | Imagery Wines
Jamie Benziger was awarded 2019 Best Woman Winemaker by the 2019 International Woman’s Wine Competition and named a 40 Under 40 Tastemaker by Wine Enthusiast – all accomplished at 33-years-old. Jamie succeeded her father as winemaker for Imagery in 2018 and has added some interesting twists to her wines. She has excelled in taking an out-of-the-box approach with unique blends of varietals that challenge conventional practices. This includes Imagery Pinot Noir which has 10% Petite Verdot in the blend, adding a surprising complement to enhance the traditional varietal. With the accolades already accumulating, we anticipate she is one woman in wine whose career will be very exciting to watch.
Lisa Amaroli | Benziger Wines
Lisa Amaroli found her love of wine while living in Europe, gaining a new perspective on the food and wine lifestyle. She formed her path in the industry from working in vineyards to roles in the lab and operations, until landing herself with the team at Benziger Family Winery in 1999. Since, her passion has become cultivating certified wines from Benziger’s biodynamic and organic farmed properties. She believes, “The wines are a reflection of the land and of the people who work so hard to bring the wine from grape to bottle and ultimately to the consumer.”
Joy Spence | Appleton Estate
Joy Spence is the first woman to hold the position of Master Blender in the spirits industry. For over 20 years, Joy has created world-class rums, including Appleton Estate Signature Blend Rum and Appleton Estate 12 Year Rare Casks Rum. Along with her status in rum, she also holds a seemingly ceaseless list of degrees include a Bachelor of Science with honors, Master of Science, honorary Doctor of Science, honorary Doctor of Law (if that wasn’t enough) Jamaica Prime Minister Medal for Science and Technology (she was the first female to have received this award). There are countless awards we could mention, but considering character count, we can leave it at this: Joy Spence might be Wonder Woman.
Lesley Gracie | Hendrick’s Gin
From its origination, Hendrick’s Gin has been anything but typical. Whether it is the medicinal black bottle, the oddities of its art or the infusion of cucumber and rose flavors, Hendrick’s has always stood out against the rest. The master distiller behind the gin is no departure from that distinction. Lesley Gracie is one of only four people who know the specific recipe of the 11 different botanicals that go into making Hendrick’s Gin – which makes sense since she crafted the recipe herself in 1999. Read more about the inevitable expansion of her gin and her office, “The Gin Palace,” here.
Isabella Collalto | Collalto Prosecco
The agricultural estate that Collalto Wines are produced on have been in the same family for 1,000 years. So, when Isabella Collalto inherited the estate, she was steadfast in protecting and preserving its heritage and legacy. She is formally known as Princess Isabella Collalto de Croy and has since added “Owner of Collalto Wines” to her title in 2007, while gracefully conquering the traditionally masculine role of Old World winemaking. From plant to production, all Collalto Wines are made on her family’s property which gives them full transparency and control over the vino. The most noteworthy are Collalto’s Prosecco Superiore Extra Dry DOCG and Prosecco Superiore Brut DOCG, both crisp, refreshing and effervescent.
Kimberlee Nicholls | Markham Vineyards
Kimberlee Nicholls has nearly 30 years of winemaking experience. She started her career in the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars' laboratory and moved on to make wines of superb character and sophisticated structure at Markham Vineyards, with a focus on sustainable farming practices and true varietal character. Her innovative spirit and encyclopedic knowledge of viticulture have helped propel Markham Vineyards to the forefront of benchmark winemaking in Napa Valley. “Cake decorating, sustainable farming, winemaker Kimberlee Nicholls is a female force to be reckoned with in the world of Napa Valley wine,” said ABC wine expert, Nathan Dale. If you are looking to try her wines, the Merlot is a great place to start.
Eboni Major | Bulleit Bourbon
Taking the road less traveled has paved the way toward Eboni Major’s career as Whiskey Blender for Bulleit Bourbon. Eboni proudly attended Alabama A&M University where she graduated with a degree in Food Science and Technology. Her first job, prior to her internship for Kettle Chips, was working with Bulleit, where her background in food science brought a new edge to the distilling process. Eboni explains, “As a Food Scientist, I assumed my chance to get into the industry would be in quality control. Had I just gone with that; I may have missed my dream position. I encourage anyone considering a career in this industry to just go for it. We have so much to offer!” While her passion for her work is unparalleled, she finds pride in inspiring other women and African Americans to push the envelope in the whiskey industry.
Elizabeth Kester | Pacific Vista
California native Elizabeth Kester discovered her love for the wine industry at the young age of 13, during her first trip to St. Helena. Located in the heart of wine county, Elizabeth says, “I was awed by the beauty of the environment.” Years later, after graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Wine and Viticulture, she worked her first professional harvest internship. There she found a fondness for the production process, leading her to intern with Wente Family Estates and worked the nine following harvests. Since, she has become Lead Winemaker for Pacific Vista, creating beautiful wines such as Ravel & Stitch Cabernet Sauvignon, found in our Sourced & Certified Collection.
Margo Van Staaveren | Chateau St. Jean
Margo Van Staaveren has no small task as Chief Winemaker at Chateau St. Jean Winery where she manages a vast portfolio including designated wines, limited-production Reserve wines and the flagship Cinq Cépages Red Wine blend. She plays a pivotal role in every facet of the winemaking process and is a firm believer that wines are grown, and the art of blending is the foundation to her process. Margo’s personal career victory is the ability to maintain a style and signature blend that carries across vintages while still capturing the unique essence of each grow year. She explains, “I find that blended wines from the diverse Sonoma County region are even more explosive in their intensely forward fruit flavor.” Margo is now celebrating over 30 harvests with Chateau St. Jean and continues to play out her legacy.
Carolyn, Jordan & Niki Wente| Wente
Wente Vineyards has been owned and operated by the Wente family since 1883. Five generations and numerous accolades later, they continue to push the limits of winemaking. Carolyn Wente leads the way as CEO and Fourth Generation Winegrower. Since joining the business in the early 1980s, she’s been awarded the 2000 Women of the Year Award by California State Assembly and 2010 Women Leadership Award by Girl Scouts of America, just to name a few. Alongside Carolyn are daughters of Phil Wente, Jordan and Niki. Jordan, the eldest, works as Winegrower and Project Manager, supporting supply chain optimization and new product innovations. Niki joined the business in 2017 as Viticulture Manager; while she continues to pursue her passion, you can also find her saving wildlife throughout the vineyard.
More Women in the Industry
Executive Vice President
Ancient Peaks Winery
Founder & CEO
Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey
Victoria Eady Butler
Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey
Senior Vice President
Daou Family Estates
Robin & Andréa McBride
McBride Sisters Wine Collection
Director of Quality Control
3 Daughters Brewing
Owner & Founder
Wicked Dolphin Rum
4th Generation Winemaker
Jen Ross & Cristina Blankfein