On Wednesday, the most respected group in the wine industry has expelled six master sommeliers after an independent and external investigation into sexual harassment allegations, including the ‘godfather of US wine’ Fred Dame.
The Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas (CMS-A) announced six master sommeliers will lose their ‘Master Sommelier’ titles, including Bob Bath, Fred Dame, Fred Dexheimer, Drew Hendricks, Joseph Linder, and Matt Stamp.They will be expelled from the organization, pending a legally required hearing within the next 30 days.
Geoff Kruth, a former board member who resigned in 2020, has also been barred from ever applying for reinstatement.
The title of Master Sommelier is the most prestigious title in the wine world, and is only obtained after passing the exam considered having the highest failure rate in the world. Only 172 people have achieved the honor since the founding of the Americas chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers in 1987. Of those, 144 are men.
Among the six expelled master sommeliers, Fred Dame will likely be the most familiar name. Well respected worldwide before, he is the co-founder of the CMS-A and has featured as a prominent figure in the popular wine documentary ‘Somm’ on Nextflix.
After hearing evidence from more than 80 individuals, the investigative findings disclosed the elite wine circle had a “male-dominated culture”. The perception of “untouchable” senior members prevailed in the circle, particularly when it came to unethical behavior or abuse of their titles.
But these misconduct and misconceptions only came into light when it was first reported by The New York Times in October last year, which 21 female sommeliers spoke out against a deep-rooted culture of sexual harassment, manipulation, and assault.
“This reckoning in our industry and organization has been incredibly painful — most painful of all for the survivors who felt unsafe or compromised by those they trusted,” Emily Wines, Chair of the Board of Directors, CMS-A, said. “From this deep disappointment and betrayal, we will continue channeling the learned lessons into growth and positive change for our organization.”
The organization said it will continue to implement additional measures towards the goal of safety and transparency, which include mandatory training on preventing sexual harassment, and steps toward exam transparency and mentorship guidelines.
Four external board members will also be selected with Executive Director Julie Cohen Theobald’s input and direction coming in 2022.