The sommelier cheating scandal just won’t go away

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?

2 thoughts on “The sommelier cheating scandal just won’t go away

  • By Tim - Reply

    So, to be clear, you are writing a blog post that is keeping what you think is a story alive by making reference to another post that does the same thing? And ultimately, the basis for that story is that a professional organization had an internal scandal but is working to create remedies internally with changes in policy and asked its membership to maintain message discipline when speaking to people such as yourself. And to sensationalize (read: justify) your post that the wine world is now reading, you refer to a highly-respected industry veteran in Ken Fredrickson who tells us that yes, indeed, this is a business and a prominent somm who, like any normal person, doesn’t like being told what to say or do. Congrats on your scoop of reporting about someone else reporting on something that they can’t even prove in their own article.

  • By Chris Waldrin - Reply

    Tim – it appears that clarity isn’t one of your strong suits. However you are perfectly clear in expressing scorn. “95” point on that!

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