Story at a glance
- Dozens of women who trained as professional sommeliers are stepping forward and reporting instances of sexual abuse from older male sommeliers.
- Of the 155 certified master sommeliers in the U.S., 131 are men.
An explosive new report by The New York Times reveals an ongoing culture of sexual abuse and harassment in one of the upper echelons of the gourmet food world: the master sommeliers.
Certified master sommeliers are an elite circle, with the Times noting that only 155 people have earned the title since the Americas chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers was founded in 1997.
Of that 155, only 24 are women.
The status is a significant achievement and career hallmark for those in the food and beverage industry. Some of the lucrative gigs a designation as a master sommelier can lend include brand ambassadorships and high-paying consulting jobs.
Much of the training involved, however, reportedly requires wading through a toxic dynamic of securing expensive wines and education trips from senior masters, who are mostly white men.
Within the intense training required to become a master sommelier, 21 women have come forward and described the sexual harassment they have endured by their male counterparts. Other former members of the Americas Sommelier Court corroborate instances of assault and harassment, calling it a sustained problem within the environment.
“Sexual aggression is a constant for women somms. We can’t escape it, so we learn to live with it,” Madeleine Thompson, a wine director in Dallas, told the Times.
Thompson said she decided not to go through the court’s qualification process due to harassment by several master sommeliers. “It’s a compromise we shouldn’t have to make.”
The episodes of harassment run the gamut. One male master sommelier reportedly solicited sexual favors from 15 candidates in exchange for professional advancement, while another sommelier in Texas asked a female student for her underwear “to snuggle with.”
One woman said she was raped by a prominent master sommelier after a wine event in New York City.
In response to these accusations, the Americas chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers told reporters that it has “investigated every accusation of such conduct that has been brought to their attention” and implemented punishments.
Due to the proliferation of accusations, the court created a hotline for anonymous reporting of any ethical violations among its sommelier members last month. The Times notes that prior to this, no recourse was available for victims, aside from going to the board of directors, which often included men accused of harassment themselves.
Sommelier industry leader Geoff Kruth, 45, has been accused by 11 women of sexual misconduct, according to the Times. Kruth resigned from the sommelier organization GuildSomm last week, but maintains his innocence.
The Americas Court of Master Sommeliers is now undergoing a referendum on its culture and procedures, having stalled on publicly supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and being recently scandalized by a cheating within the master sommelier tests.
On June 22, the board did come out supporting diversity and demonstrating its commitment to people of color and women in the wine industry, but advocates equate these steps as virtue signaling.
“They do not get to use us as P.R. when we have been subjected to so much misogyny, put up with so many unwanted touches and stares and invitations to get where we are,” said Liz Mitchell, a sommelier in New Orleans, who was sexually harassed by her mentor, Matthew Citriglia, according to the Times.