The Times spoke to 21 women, including some who gave up their pursuit of the title after traumatizing encounters with members of the Court of Master Sommeliers.

By Jelisa Castrodale
October 30, 2020
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Becoming a Master Sommelier is perhaps the wine industry's ultimate achievement, an honor that it's incredibly difficult to attain. In the 23 years since the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas was founded, only 155 people have passed the final certification level, earning the right to wear the red-and-gold lapel pin that signifies their master somm status. 

In the United States, only 24 women have become master sommeliers, even though a steadily  increasing number of candidates have enrolled in GuildSomm, a nonprofit organization that provides educational resources for anyone who is pursuing a certification through the Court of Master Sommeliers. (There are four levels of certification, which start with the Introductory Sommelier Course & Examination and finish with the Master Sommelier Diploma Examination.) 

According to an upsetting report from the New York Times, a significant number of women pursuing their certifications have reported being sexually harassed, intimidated, or raped by male master sommeliers. The Times spoke with 21 women who shared their accounts of abuse and assault by members of the court. 

“Sexual aggression is a constant for women somms. We can’t escape it, so we learn to live with it,” Madeleine Thompson, a 28-year-old wine director, told the Times. “It’s a compromise we shouldn’t have to make.” She also said that she withdrew from the court's certification courses due to the sexual harassment that she had already endured. 

Geoff Kruth, a master sommelier and the president of GuildSomm, has been accused of making "unwanted sexual advances" towards 11 women. A 35-year-old wine importer said Kruth "slid his fingers inside her underpants and kissed her breast" after they had attended a dinner. A 30-year-old woman said that Kruth propositioned her and tried to get a taxi driver to "skip her hotel and take them both to his." A 35-year-old sommelier said that he opened his hotel room door naked, exposing himself to her. Another wine director reported that he "sent her a link to a graphic oral-sex guide, and asked which position was her favorite." 

Victoria James, who became the court's youngest certified sommelier, told the Times that Kruth offered to write her a letter of recommendation for the next level of certification if she agreed to meet him for sex. “I got off the waiting list the next day,” she said. “I felt dirty and terrible, and that was the end of the court for me.”

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that he resigned earlier this week; a spokesperson for the Court said that Kruth had been the subject of two formal complaints for sexual misconduct and that he received a "letter of warning" three years ago. 

A spokesperson for the court told the Times that it "expected members “to uphold the highest standards of professional conduct and integrity at all times" and that it had "investigated every accusation of such conduct" that had been reported. It has also since launched an anonymous hotline where sexual misconduct and ethical violations can be reported anonymously. 

That doesn't undo what these women have already had to endure. Like the 30-year-old woman who told the Times that she was raped by a master sommelier, an incident that was so deeply traumatizing that she moved out of New York City and ended her pursuit of a sommelier certification. "I have no interest in the court now,” she said. “I have no desire to be tested and judged by these people.”