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Court of Master Sommeliers doesn’t want somms to be “superstars”

The board for the Court of Master Sommeliers Americas is making a strategic move away from the notion of the “celebrity sommelier” to improve the profession’s reputation, says its chair.

The countless accusations made towards the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas over the last few years have been well documented, and the damage caused by the abhorrent actions of certain founding members of the organisation irrevocable.

However, the leading body for sommeliers in the United States is heading in a very different direction, says its new leader; a path that shuns the limelight in favour of flying under the radar.

“It’s a service industry and a trade, so we don’t want to elevate sommeliers as superstars, but to elevate the profession,” said Emily Wines, chair of the new board of directors for the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas.

“Especially after covid, the profession has changed a lot, and we need to change with it. When restaurants hit hard times, sommeliers are often the first to be cut. We want to emphasise not just wine knowledge, but how to run a beverage programme and a restaurant,” Wines said in an interview with The Washington Post.

Film documentaries such as the Somm series, which followed four sommeliers as they attempted to pass the extremely challenging Master Sommelier exam, were a smash hit and undoubtedly contributed to the perceived prestige of the profession.

The ‘superstar’ status may also be attributable to the relative rareness of the Master Sommelier, the highest rank to which one can rise in the profession. There are currently only 172 in the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas, and just 269 worldwide.

Such an air of ‘untouchability’, however, also enabled individuals within the organisation to behave in a way that suggests they felt they were above societal rules. These behaviours included male sommeliers allegedly offering letters of recommendation to female peers in exchange for sex, and the non-consensual touching of colleagues, which led to six members of the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas, being expelled from the organisation last year.

“This reckoning in our industry and organisation has been incredibly painful — most painful of all for the survivors who felt unsafe or compromised by those they trusted,” Wines said in a statement at the time. “From this deep disappointment and betrayal, we will continue channelling the learned lessons into growth and positive change for our organisation.”

If Master Sommeliers are to be nudged gently from their pedestals and seen in much the same vein as any member of a restaurant’s highly-qualified team, it may go some way to restoring their public image.

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