The #metoo movement reaches the wine and the Court of Master Sommeliers association in the USA, which lives hours of uncertainty and turmoil.

The #metoo campaign to denounce sexual harassment at work has arrived in the US wine world and is imploding the Court of Master Sommeliers, the exclusive industry association.

Who are the Master Sommelier

The Master Sommelier is an elite association of the wine world, based on the Master of Wine model. The association in composed of 300 members worldwide and is accessed after ten years of study and many expenses (study trips, books, wine purchase, participation in specialization courses, examination fees, etc. ). It is estimated that only 8% of candidates pass the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Master Exam. This examination consists of three parts: an oral test on oenological science; a practical test on room service and sales; and finally a blind tasting of 6 wines with an accurate description (identifying the blend, origin, vintage, to be carried out in 25 minutes). The first Italian to obtain the title is Matteo Montone who has recently obtained his Master Sommelier diploma in London, on 31 October 2020.

Court of Master Sommeliers: heads off

Devon Broglie, president of the Napa-based Court of Master Sommeliers Americas (CMS-A) and world purchasing manager of  beverage at Whole Foods Market, was suspended after admitting an inappropriate relationship with Marie-Louise Friedland, certified sommelier head of the wine department of some restaurants. The sommelier decided to report her story, about the harassment she had suffered, to the New York Times (NYT), not trusting how the Court would handle her complaint. Broglie had mentored Friedland during her residency, giving her lessons to acquire the title. During a blind tasting session held at Broglie’s house, the latter had turned the meeting into a sex request. “It was consensual. I didn’t say no.” explained Marie-Louise Friedland. “However, many of us would wonder how such a relationship could be consensual when the balance of power is so clearly unbalanced.”

About ten days ago, Wine Spectator announced that CMS-A had suspended other Master Sommeliers from the association (Greg Harrington, Eric Entrikin, Robert Bath, Matt Stamp, Matthew Citriglia, Drew Hendricks, Fred Dame and later Brian Cronin, Joseph Linder and Fred Dexheimer) accused of sexual harassment of 21 colleagues who had attended professional courses and obtained a diploma. The harassment cases were dealt with an investigation by the NYT, which focused on Geoff Kruth (ex GuildSomm) as a sexual predator. The 12 suspended, without comments, are now the subject of an independent external investigation which will have the task of establishing the facts and possibly deprive them of the title of Master Sommelier.

CMS-A. Objective: reforms and new appointments

Devon Broglie has resigned as chairman of CMS-A and will be replaced in the post. All the members of the Court will soon be called upon to take decisions to replace the members of the entire board of directors, to revise the articles of association and also the ethical policy of the association. “We agree that a reformed CMS-A is the only way to ensure the existence and integrity of the organization and to better protect the people who seek to learn and earn the credentials we have worked so hard for,” wrote Virginia Philip, vice president of the CMS-A Board, in a letter sent to Master Sommeliers and reported by Drink Business.

In recent years, specific complaints about inappropriate behaviour have been rare. This is because the structures themselves – largely managed by males – have ensured a systematic underestimation of the problem of abuse. Less obscure is the world of cooking: Anthony Bourdain has long since torn the veil of hypocrisy by narrating without shame, an environment where massive drug and alcohol abuse was – and still is – the order of the day. And again, the discovery of the “rape room” on the third floor of New York’s Spotted Pig, where famous restaurateur Ken Friedman sexually harassed his employees during working hours. Similar speech for the deeds of Mario Batali with the accusations of harassment and sexual assault made by several women against him and for which he himself admitted responsibility, apologizing.

Unfortunately, this is only a partial list. The underestimation of the risks that women have to face in the world of food and wine exists in American society, but also in the culture promoted by the now ex president of the USA who claimed that you should “grab them by the pussy” referring to women.

The #metoo and the future of the CMS-A

The #metoo movement began in October 2017 thanks to the reports of abuse and violence by the US film producer Harvey Weinstein, to the detriment of many actresses (American and European). Thanks to this movement all behaviour has been sifted through and, if so, openly denounced. “The systematic issues of racism, sexism, classism, homophobia and elitism are rooted in the DNA of this organization and nothing good can be reconstructed from its foundations. It has to be dismantled and we have to start over,” wrote the first black woman to become an MS in North America in a post on her website Alpana Singh. Currently more than 1000 sommeliers have signed a petition to boycott the CMS-A courses and exams until the entire board of directors is profoundly changed.

by Andrea Gabbrielli