Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you are all familiar with the #MeToo movement; a social movement designed to publicize allegations of sexual abuse and sexual harassment by powerful and prominent men. While the movement feels recent, it actually finds its origin in 2006 when the phrase was coined on Myspace by Tarana Burke, a sexual harassment survivor and activist.
Like other social justice and empowerment movements, it is designed to break the silence and to empower women through empathy and solidarity. By bringing strength in numbers, especially among young and vulnerable women, the goal is to visibly demonstrate how many women have survived sexual assault and harassment – especially in the workplace – and to bring about public awareness and change.
Following the exposure of the widespread sexual-abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein in early 2017, the movement has gotten its legs and spread beyond the entertainment industry. Unfortunately, the wine industry is no exception.
This week eleven members of the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas, were suspended from all court activities, and another has resigned after a New York Times report last week on the group’s longtime pattern of sexual harassment and conflicts of interest. This elite group of wine professionals is part of a global network of examining bodies that are effectively the gatekeepers of the title “Master Sommelier.” The rigors of this exam were detailed in the Somm documentary series noted in our binge worthy flicks section. Holders of this prestigious title (of which there are only 165 in the Americas) is often higher salaries and consulting fees and vast professional prestige.
Each man has been accused of sexual misconduct involving women who were candidates for the Court’s top title; a title each man held and which allowed them to wield enormous influence over the victims’ ability to advance in the profession. While the accusations varied by man, a clear focus was Geoff Kruth, a prominent wine educator and, until these accusations, the president of GuildSomm, a wine education organization that is a spinoff of the Court. Kruth’s pattern of behavior was detailed by nearly a dozen women candidates who told the Times that Kruth tried to pressure them into sex, sometimes in exchange for professional favors.
On Monday, the 27 women who are current members of the Court issued a public apology to the victims, and demanded specific changes to the Court, including a complete overhaul of its ethical policies by an independent third party and immediate postponement of board elections, which are scheduled for next week.
The Court issued a public apology specifically naming each individual that has resigned or been suspended pending further outside independent investigation. The apology also states that all members will be required to sign an updated Code of Ethics and complete sexual harassment training. Finally, the Court terminated its relationship with GuildSomm.
This is clearly the tip of the iceberg and we suspect as more women speak out, the Court’s suspension/resignation list will grow. Indeed, just yesterday the Chairman of the Court, Devon Brogile, resigned amid the numerous accusations and calls for his departure. The interim Chair will be Virginia Philip (the current vice chair), who will oversee the transition and reform of the Court and will then step down at the end of her term.
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