The wine world is reeling from allegations of sexual assault by several male master sommeliers. More than 20 women accused colleagues of sexual harassment or assault, according to New York Times reporter Julia Moskin, and the scenarios they allege are disturbing: hands slipped into underwear, promises of professional advancement in exchange for sex, even rape, and a parent organization — the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas — that failed to protect its women members.
In case you missed the latest developments: Geoff Kruth, one of the master sommeliers identified in the Times investigation, has resigned from his job at GuildSomm and abdicated his coveted “MS” title. (He denied that any sexual encounters described in the article were non-consensual, and did not respond to The Chronicle for comment.)
Meanwhile, the nation’s women master somms have banded together to demand changes within the court, and some of those changes already appear to be in the works. The court has hired an outside firm to conduct an investigation of the allegations and has suspended seven master sommeliers from participating in court activities, it said in a statement.
You can read all about those developments elsewhere. But in today’s newsletter, I want to tell a different, albeit related, story: the story of Alpana Singh, who says she is the first woman of color to become a master sommelier in the U.S. — and who resigned her title yesterday. I spoke to Singh this week about her own experiences with the court over the last two decades, and they may be able to tell us something about the dynamics within this community that produced the current situation.
Singh passed the master exam in 2003, but it was only this year that she realized the significance of her achievement. “I was the first woman of color to pass!” she said. “It took me 17 years to make the connection.” No one ever celebrated, or even recognized, the significance of her presence in the court, she said. Until that point, there were only six women master somms in the U.S. (These women all appear to be white, making Singh’s assertion likely true. Another woman, Sara Floyd, also passed in 2003.)
But Singh’s road to the master sommelier title — earned at age 26 — had been bumpy, she said.
She discovered wine at age 19 while working at a Monterey restaurant. At the time, Singh felt adrift, unsure of what to do with her life after a failed attempt to enlist in the Air Force. She fell in love with wine. “I just became enamored with it, the history, science, geology,” she said. “I felt an instant high any time I sold a bottle of wine to someone and they loved it.”
At the encouragement of her boss, who held an advanced sommelier certification, she decided to take an introductory course with the Court of Master Sommeliers, she said. She wasn’t yet of legal drinking age, but didn’t realize that would be a problem; no one ever