Women in Wine, Spirits & Beer
By Peyton Whittington Originally Published February 2021, Updated February 2023
From trailblazing distillers to brilliant brewers and viniculture virtuosos, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits is peering behind the bottle to share the stories of women in the wine, spirits and beer industry who you should be watching.
Keep scrolling to read more about where they got their start, what they’ve accomplished and where they’re headed.
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, including a Bachelor of Science with honors, a Master of Science, an honorary Doctorate of Science and an honorary Doctorate of Law. If that wasn’t enough, she was also the first woman to receive the Jamaica Prime Minister Medal for Science and Technology. There are countless other awards and accolades we could mention, but considering character count, we can leave it at this: Joy Spence might be Wonder Woman.
Lorena Vásquez | Ron Zacapa Rum
Lorena Vásquez is one of the few female master blenders in the world of spirits for a luxury rum brand that consistently ranks among the finest rums on the market. Vásquez has worked in the industry for almost 40 years, but she views blending rum as her passion rather than her job. As a master blender, Vásquez ensures that all of the flavors, aromas and ingredients going into each bottle of Zacapa produces nothing short of an excellent tasting experience for the consumer.
When Vásquez began working in spirits, she was the only woman in her workplace. Now, things have changed for the better. Vásquez and Zacapa’s dedication to supporting other Central American women is evident in the petate band, hand-woven from palm leaves, that adorns each bottle. These bands are handmade by a community of over 700 Guatemalan women in the distillery’s area who were displaced by conflict or face other economic hardships. This way, each bottle contains authentic pieces of Guatemalan culture from the inside out and the artisans are able to continue practicing their craft and supporting their communities.
Cynthia Lohr | J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines
Co-Owner & Chief Brand Officer
As Chief Brand Officer and Co-Owner of J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, Cynthia Lohr champions her family's business in all that she does. One of her biggest passions is uplifting the voices of other women in the alcohol beverage industry and those who would like to pursue a career path in the industry.
J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines has launched #JLohrWomen, an annual campaign that provides opportunities for women in the industry to learn, grow and excel through informational LinkedIn lives with industry experts, shadow days with J. Lohr executives and more.
“Social equity in the wine business has been fundamental to J. Lohr since our founding almost 50 vintages ago,” Lohr said. “Our father, Founder and CFO Jerry Lohr, and my brothers Steve and Lawrence...are excited by this effort to spark necessary conversations and encourage greater collaboration across the entire alcohol beverage industry. Our male allies are instrumental in the advancement of women in our industry; at J. Lohr, we are fortunate to have talented women in leading positions as a result of this ethos.”
By helping to fill the alcohol beverage industry’s gender gap, J. Lohr is building both a stronger company internally and a more robust wine industry as a whole. Learn more about the campaign here.
Lesley Gracie | Hendrick’s Gin
From its origination, Hendrick’s Gin has been anything but typical. Whether it’s the medicinal black bottle, the intricacies of its packaging 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 knows 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.
Lexie Amacher-Phillips | Jack Daniel’s
Lexie Amacher-Phillips was born and raised in Lynchburg, TN, the site of the famous Jack Daniel Distillery, and she seemed destined to make her mark on the U.S.’s biggest name in whiskey. She started her journey in bottling and quality control in 2013 and had become a distiller by the end of 2014. She’s one of only a handful of women to have worked as a distillery operator. When Master Distiller Chris Fletcher stepped into the role in 2020, he knew there was only one person he wanted to work side-by-side with him protecting the traditions of great whiskey-making as Assistant Distiller, and it was Lexie.
Now, Lexie and her family continue to proudly produce Jack Daniel’s whiskey in various roles. All in all, Lexie has upwards of 20 family members who have worked, or who still work, alongside her at Jack. Her husband, Josh, works as a processor. Lexie and Josh even have six dogs and cats, two of whom go by “Jack.”
“I am very lucky to work with a lot of people that love what we do and are very willing to share that knowledge. Look for those people,” Lexie advises other women looking to get into distilling. “Be confident but stay humble and never lose your curiosity.”
Kat Hantas, Nicole Emanuel, and Sarika Singh | 21SEEDS
21SEEDS Tequila was born out of Kat Hantas’ desire for a different kind of drinking experience that just wasn’t on the market. Her daily glass of wine left her feeling fatigued, so her doctor recommended switching to distilled spirits. In search of a simple, tasty way to enjoy tequila, Hantas began infusing tequila herself with grapefruit, jalapeño, orange and other flavor combinations. Soon, friends and family were eager to get their hands on their own bottles, and Hantas knew her home brews had big potential. She called her sister Nicole and their mutual friend Sarika and hatched a business plan.
“I’d bring a bottle to a party, and before long we’d all be sitting around the table drinking our infused tequila spritzes in our beloved wine glasses, sharing stories and laughing at old jokes,” Hantas said. “What began as one bottle turned into dozens…and eventually a new beginning.”
The three women have made their mark on the booming tequila category with simplistic, refreshing spirits with delectable flavor combinations like cucumber jalapeño and grapefruit hibiscus.
Trudiann Branker | Mount Gay Rum
Only four people have held the title of Master Blender at Mount Gay Rum in the past 40 years, and Trudiann Branker is the first woman to fill this esteemed role. In fact, she’s also the first master blender in Barbados, the birthplace of rum. She holds dual degrees in biology and chemistry, providing the foundation for her blending expertise. It’s a practice that she views as both art and science.
“People often think that rum is just about a summer drink, pirates or parties. So, for me, I think that it’s an exciting challenge to change the overall perception of rum and lead people to understand that we’ve been making this beautiful spirit for over 300 years on the same land in St. Lucy, at the northern tip of Barbados,” Branker said. “Blending allows me to weave together my passion for science with art and I’m proud to be able to do this in the birthplace of rum.”
Lisa Amaroli | Benziger Wines
Director of Winemaking
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 by working in vineyards to roles in the lab and operations until she found herself with the team at Benziger Family Winery in 1999. Since then, her passion has become cultivating certified wines from Benziger’s biodynamic and organic farmed properties.
“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,” she said.
Carin Luna-Ostaseski | SIA Scotch Whisky
When everyone around her was sipping cosmos in her early twenties, Carin Luna-Ostaseski was becoming a student of a very different type of drink: Scotch. She fell in love with the spirit, sampling hundreds from her local liquor store and hosting tasting parties with friends and family to share her passion for whisky. Through this experience, she came to realize that the category was missing a high-quality, affordable and approachable Scotch whisky; something that newbies and seasoned connoisseurs like herself could both enjoy.
Breaking into the industry as a first-generation Cuban American woman wasn’t easy, but she finally found the perfect blend that she was after. Her juice garnered accolades from the industry's fiercest competitions and judging panels and Luna-Ostaseski crowdfunded her new spirit business on Kickstarter. SIA is one of the first crowd-funded whiskies, created by one of the first Hispanic entrepreneurs to ever build a Scotch whisky brand. Luna-Ostaseski is committed to paying her success forward through The Entrepreneurial Spirit Fund, a grant program she founded that supports entrepreneurs of color in the food and beverage industry. Read more about the program here.
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 2017 and has added some interesting twists to her wines. She has excelled in taking an out-of-the-box approach with unique blends of uncommon grape varietals that challenge conventional practices. This includes Imagery Pinot Noir, which has 10% Petite Verdot in the blend. As Jamie continues to expand upon her father’s legacy, one can only wonder whether it’s blood or good wine that runs through her veins.
Bronya Shillo | Fishers Island Lemonade
Bronya Shillo and Fishers Island Lemonade is proof that the best cocktail recipes are homemade. It was while working as a bartender at her family's bar, The Pequot Inn on Fishers Island New York, that Bronya had the visionary idea to turn the signature house cocktail recipe into a ready-to-drink canned cocktail that everyone could enjoy. Thus, Fishers Island Lemonade was born May 2014 as one of the very first canned craft cocktails in the United States. Over the years, Fishers Island Lemonade has earned numerous accolades for its simply delicious blend of premium vodka, barrel-aged whiskey, lemon and honey, including a Double Gold Medal, Consumer Choice Award and a Platinum Award at the 2022 SIP Awards competition.
“It’s really exciting, as a female founder, to work in a male-dominated industry,” Shillo said. “Every page that you turn, every chapter is so gratifying.”
Isabella Collalto | Collalto Prosecco
The agricultural estate where Collalto Wines are produced has 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.
Lisa Metheny | 3 Daughters Brewing
Assistant Brewer & Retail Account Manager
After graduating from Florida State University with a business degree under her belt, Lisa Metheny worked at E. & J. Gallo Winery in California for 18 years teaching wine education classes as part of her role in training and recruiting. One day, she had an interesting realization: day in and day out, she spoke about wine and how it was made for hours on end, yet she had never actually made the stuff herself.
When she learned about the University of South Florida’s Brewing Arts Program, she knew this was her opportunity to get a more hand-on approach to beverage production. She enrolled in the program and, as part of the graduation requirements, began working as an intern with 3 Daughters Brewing. So began her story as a beer brewer.
Fast forward a couple years, and now she works a hybrid role with the brewery where she’s able to put her business degree to work on the sales side and develop her passion for beer brewing on the production side. She helps the brewery’s small batch brewer come up with delicious on tap beer flavors, like carrot cake, Count Chocula cereal and candy cane. Metheny’s journey from wine to beer goes to show that it’s never too late to explore a new passion and turn it into a career.
More Women in the Industry
General Manager & Distiller
CEO & Proprietor
Head of Winemaking
4th Generation Winegrower & Board Chairman
5th Generation Winegrower & Brand Manager of Murrieta’s Well
5th Generation Winegrower & Senior Vineyard & Viticulture Manager
Quality Control Manager & Gin Distiller
Quality Control Specialist
Owner & Founder
Quality Assurance Bottling Specialist & Female Master Taster
Production Operator & Bourbon Distiller
Master Blender & Malt Master
The Balvenie Apprentice Malt Master
Karinna Enriquez Hurtado
Dr. Rachel Barrie
Assistant Master Blender
Co-founder and Managing Partner