Court of Master Sommeliers Will No Longer Use 'Master' As a Title

The name of the organization isn't changing, but the way its members refer to each other is.

African female wine lover evaluating red wine at table.
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The Court of Master Sommeliers released a statement earlier this month, writing that it "universally condemns racism, prejudice, and racially motivated violence in all its forms," and vowing that it would "commit to listening, learning, advocating and acting for change in our industry and our communities."

In addition, Devon Broglie, the chairman of the court's board of directors, told the New York Times that the organization would no longer use the word "master" as a way of addressing those who have attained what has been called the "ultimate title" from the Court. Going forward, Master Sommeliers will be addressed as such—with both terms—plus their surname.

The Court appears to have made this decision after watching a widely shared Instagram video from Tahiirah Habibi, the founder of the Hue Society. In the video, Habibi said that when she took the Court of Master Sommeliers America (CMSA) exam in 2011, she was told that she would have to use the title "Master" to address those who administered the exam.

"I just kind of sank [...] and I just couldn't imagine having to pour a glass of wine for someone while calling them 'master,'" she told the San Francisco Chronicle. "There was no point in attempting to go forward [in the CMSA]. I couldn't deal with people who couldn't see that that language was a problem."

Broglie has since spoken with Habibi, and has confirmed that the use of 'Master' as a title will be discontinued. "I expressed deep regret for the unwelcoming experience and the racism perpetrated then," he said.

But the Court's statement and its pledges to be more inclusive, were too little, too late for some of its members. Richard Betts became the first Master Sommelier to ever resign from the organization, telling the Chronicle that he "threw out my pin and my tie" last week. (Master Sommeliers wear a red and gold pin badge on their lapels, to identify them as such.)

"Today I resigned from the Court of Master Sommeliers Americas because I view it as an organization whose values are at great odds with my own," Betts wrote in a Medium post. "The recent global amplification of the long-ignored outcry for racial equality and social justice has elicited what feels to me like a complete lack of empathy from the CMSA."

Betts was followed by Brian McClintic, who announced his own resignation from the CMSA on Monday. "While I am 100% clear that this decision is in the best interest of myself and the Court, the reasons are multifold, culminating in the simple affirmation of three words: Black Lives Matter," he wrote in his own Medium post.

"At this critical juncture in our history, we are afforded a golden opportunity to reach higher ground with racial equality. And if my values dictate that I am allied with Black Lives Matter, which I am, then it goes without saying that I should expect an organization I am affiliated with to be razor-clear on the issue of public support. Over the last couple days, I have come to learn they are not."

Broglie acknowledged to the Chronicle that perhaps the CMSA's statements were not "on as swift a timeline" as they could've been. "Nevertheless, we are proud of the decisions we have made and the initial actions we are taking for the growth of the organization and the betterment of the hospitality industry," he said.

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