Dining & Wine

6 Women In Wine & Spirits

March 7, 2024

More and more women are holding key decision-making roles at wineries and spirit brands in Canada and abroad; here are some outstanding examples. —Noa Nichol


Geraldine Kavanagh was born in Ireland’s lush Wicklow County, forging, as a child, a deep connection to nature, learning what plants grew where and when, and slowly coming to know their scents, flowers and habitats—long before she knew their names. She turned her hobby of wild-food foraging into a career, teaching it to adults. In 2014, Kavanagh was asked by Glendalough Distillery to create a gin using foraged ingredients from Wicklow, where the distillery, too, is located. A decade on, she remains head forager with the brand and the country’s only full-time distillery forager. Treading lightly and never taking too much from one place, she considerately forages for fresh and flavourful ingredients year-round to capture the four Irish seasons in every bottle of Glendalough Irish Gin.


Stephanie Dutton, Penfolds Group winemaker, was born and raised in a city renowned for its love of food and wine: Melbourne, Australia. Dutton discovered her passion for fine wine while working in some of Melbourne’s signature restaurants. In 2010, she joined the Penfolds red-winemaking team, based at the Nuriootpa Winery in the Barossa Valley, and has been a champion of Penfolds “House Style” for the label’s most revered wines. In 2017, she took on the role of Penfolds senior winemaker and in 2022 became group winemaker. Her winemaking responsibilities now span two hemispheres and, for the past four years, she has split her time between South Australia and California. Dutton played an active role in bringing the Penfolds California portfolio to life through trial work and shaping the inaugural 2018 vintage, alongside Andrew Baldwin.


Mari Wells Coyle Raised in Bellingham, Washington, where her passion for the outdoors began at a young age. Surrounded by picturesque hills and local ingredients, her family celebrated every occasion with a seasonal meal and a special bottle of wine. With a love for both art and science, she was very intrigued by the study of winemaking. Moreover, she desired a career that would allow her to spend time outdoors in a beautiful setting. As Chateau St. Jean Winery’s head winemaker, Wells Coyle has developed a true passion for crafting Cabernet and Bordeaux wines at the brand’s Sonoma County, California vineyards. She says her aim is “to bring the best fruit to the bottle. Every decision I make is a part of bringing the vineyards to the table in a meaningful way.”


As a kid growing up between her family’s two Sonoma wineries, Jamie Benziger was always on the move, playing soccer, riding her horse and running around with her sisters. Later, while studying marketing at university and working summers selling tour tickets at the winery, she realized she wanted the family business to be her future. She transferred to Sonoma State University to complete her marketing degree and added wine business to her studies. But it wasn’t until her first harvest working the lab at Benziger that she realized her heart was really in winemaking. Since then, she’s had incredible opportunities to learn the chemistry of fine wine working in the labs at St. Francis and Bogle, travel to New Zealand to work harvest at Villa Maria, and get her hands dirty in the field at Enterprise Vineyards. Returning home to Sonoma in 2015, she worked alongside “the most incredible winemaker I know: my dad.” In December 2017, Joe Benziger retired and his daughter took the reins as winemaker, subsequently being named the 2019 Best Woman Winemaker in the International Women’s Wine Competition and included on Wine Enthusiast’s list of 40 Under 40 Tastemakers.


Andrea Card’s wine roots date back to before Prohibition, when her great-grandparents grew Petite Sirah and Carignane in the Alexander Valley. In 2001, Card earned a degree in agricultural business with a concentration in farm and ranch management. Loving the wine culture, she decided to take her education further by completing a winemaking certificate program, after which she joined Benziger Family Winery, where she worked for 16 years developing her skills not only in wine production and winemaking but tending to the land with an emphasis in sustainability, organics and biodynamics. She transitioned to Ravenswood Winery in 2017 as its winemaker, then joined The Prisoner Wine Company working on the Unshackled brand for a year as senior winemaker before accepting the role of senior winemaker at Francis Ford Coppola Winery. Card loves everything about nature and processes and is excited to be in Sonoma County sourcing grapes and making wines that have long been a part of her heritage.


Ashley Leon’s interest in chemistry and passion for food and nature drove her to pursue the study of wine. She completed a degree in winemaking with a concentration in enology, then travelled the world to gain experience in different wine regions. She completed vintages in Napa Valley, New Zealand, Chile and Australia. In 2012 she decided to do a harvest on Mosel River in Germany, where she stayed to work at a small family-owned winery for almost five years. In 2017 Leon moved back home to California to be closer to family and landed a role with wine consultant Philippe Melka as the assistant winemaker for one of his clients, Vice Versa Wines. Focusing mostly on premium Cabernet Sauvignon, she also worked making the wines and final blending on other projects. Today, Leon gets to live her dream making the delicious J-Harden wines from her home state, California!


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