The New York Times dropped a bombshell report four days ago exposing a systematic pattern of sexual harassments inside Court of Master Sommeliers Americas, the country’s most rarified club for wine professionals.
Twenty one women told the Times that have been sexually harassed, manipulated or assaulted by male master sommeliers including Geoff Kruth, the star of Netflix documentary Somm, Robert Bath, Matthew Citriglia, Fred Dame, Drew Hendricks, and Matt Stamp.
On November 1, in full damage control mode, CMS Americas released a statement saying the Court is conducting an outside investigation “to the fullest extent possible.”
Meanwhile, Geoff Kruth, president of GuildSomm, has resigned as a member of CMS-A and forfeited his title after the Court notified him of an outside investigation. He is still subject to further disciplinary action based on the investigation.
Robert Bath, Matthew Citriglia, Fred Dame, Drew Hendricks, and Matt Stamp were suspended on Saturday from all CMS-A programming, pending further action based on the results of the investigation.
The Court says it also opened a hotline for anyone to report misconduct through a third party here on top of updating Code of Ethics and sexual harassment training.
What the Times report cracked open is not just a culture of sexual harassments in wine industry’s most respected community but perhaps what has been tacitly permitted and tolerated in an industry beyond CMS where alcohol is a given and a pass.
By extension, it is a scandal about the wine industry at large.
As a wine journalist based in Asia, I don’t remember how many times I have seen an older winery owner jumping on wine trips to Hong Kong or Bangkok, surrounding themselves with young and attractive Asian women at after parties and shady go-go bars. Or the times at wine dinners when a convenient hand would slide up a woman’s leg.
It’s no surprise most people’s reaction to the story is – well “unsurprised”.
Best Sommelier in the World winner of 2016, Arvid Rosengren, wrote on Twitter, “I guess at this point, it shouldn’t be surprising or shocking, but I’m still rattled. So incredibly disappointing. This goes way beyond ‘bad apples’.”
The scandal quickly prompted wine lovers to ask if CMS-Americas has been complicit in fomenting an environment of impunity, what about other shadowy closed-door wine clubs, wine societies or dare we say – Master of Wine community.
Michael Apstein, James Beard Awarded wine writer, rightfully asked the pointed question on twitter, “Is there a similar toxic atmosphere in the MW community? Is this unethical and likely illegal behavior limited to us in the U.S.?”
To which, respected wine writer Jancis Robinson, replied,: “Absolutely not as far as I am aware, and the @mastersofwine have been very quick today to draw our attention to zero tolerance of this sort of reprehensible behaviour.”
I am relieved to read at least one top echelon group of wine professionals are adhering to Code of Ethics, as reassured by Jancis.
But let’s not forget earlier reports of UK wine writer and TV show host Joe Fattorini’s misogynist and toxic WhatsApp messages, and excessive drinking and inappropriate behaviors surrounding the departure of a former high-ranking Treasury Wine Estates executive.
What the wine industry need is to use this opportunity to give female wine professionals in the industry a platform to address their concerns.
It’s time to reform this male-dominated, fraternity like culture, be it at these haughty wine circles, winemaking communities, wine buying or education communities.
And for once, when women tell the stories, listen.