How did the sommelier cheating scandal get to the point where people are afraid to talk about what happened?
Newsy’s Mark Greenblatt broke last week’s story detailing the possibility of more trouble at the Court of Master Sommeliers in the wake of last year’s sommelier cheating scandal. That’s when someone gave the list of wines for the blind tasting portion of the test to at least one candidate. Then, the results of the exam were “invalidated” and the sommelier group insisted all else was fine. We’ve heard nary a word since then.
That’s when Greenblatt, a long-time investigative reporter, got interested. There should be more transparency when something like this happens, he says, just as with any sort of accreditation process. People who work hard to get the MS initials deserve at least that much. And that it hasn’t happened, says Greenblatt, may speak to larger problems within the court, including possible conflicts of interest.
What struck me during our conversation was that so many sommeliers and candidates are afraid to talk to Greenblatt for fear of retribution from the court. Hence, the need for anonymous sources and leaked documents – hardly something that should happen in the wine business.
We talked about what has happened in the wake of the Newsy story, the followup that Greenblatt is working on, and why no one in the wine media did much with the story after it first became public. If you want to email Greenblatt, click this link.
Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is almost 11 minutes long and takes up 4.3 megabytes. The sound quality is excellent.
• Podcast with Newsy journalist Mark Greenblatt: People are afraid to talk about what happened
Newsy website reports that sommelier cheating scandal may be part of more extensive problems at Court of Master Sommeliers
Remember last year’s sommelier cheating scandal, which grabbed the cyber-headlines and then mysteriously disappeared? The Newsy website reports that the scandal may be part of larger problems at the organization that oversees the master sommelier program.
“[S]everal current master sommeliers are going public for the first time by speaking to Newsy,” reports the website. “They have grown concerned about more ‘systemic’ problems plaguing the Court of Master Sommeliers, the nonprofit governing body that administers the group’s exams.”
The report – you can watch it in the video at the top of the post or read the transcript – outlines what appears to be an attempt to stonewall outsiders from finding out exactly what happened. All we know is that someone gave the list of wines for the blind tasting portion of the test to at least one candidate, the results were then invalidated, and the sommelier group said all else was fine.
Since then, the court has revised its code of ethics to include a provision that would punish master sommeliers who criticized the organization: Newsy reports that the new code “warned of ‘disciplinary action’ for ‘any action or utterance’ by a master sommelier that ‘could be construed as detrimental’ to the Court’s good name.’ ”
Says one master sommelier in the report: “I took that as, you know, ‘Be quiet. Don’t question our authority or we’ll kick you out. There are some fundamental things that are wrong.”
None of this is surprising. I made a few phone calls in the aftermath of the scandal, and couldn’t even get anyone to talk off the record. They didn’t want to talk at all; as one well-known master sommelier told me, “I advised them to go public, and they ignored me. It’s their problem now.”
The reason for the group’s behavior is not surprising: money and power. As I wrote last year, “Sommelier-ing has become an industry in and of itself – movies, even. Sommeliers are the current rock stars of the wine business, perhaps even more quoted and revered than the celebrity winemakers who used to dominate the discussion.”
But the minute it looks like those MS initials are worthless, all of that collapses. So the court, according to the Newsy report, has done all it can to make sure no one finds out exactly what happened. And, if anyone does find out, to punish them for telling the rest of us.
It’s also not surprising that a Mainstream Media outlet had to pursue the story. There’s little incentive for the Winestream Media to follow up on the scandal. It has almost as much invested in turning sommeliers into rock stars as the sommeliers do. Who do you think put all these people on a pedestal in the first place?