In the modern era, wine education and certification are tied to systems and cultures of white supremacy, gatekeeping, and patriarchy. Why the Court of Master Sommeliers, and other certifying bodies, need to be dismantled

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Photo by Girl with red hat on Unsplash

The saddest part about the recent news story about the twenty-one women who spoke to the New York Times about the sexual harassment rampant in the Court Of Master Sommeliers (CMS) and a separate but equally guilty arm of education at GuildSomm isn’t that their private lives are now spectacle, it’s that it wasn’t a surprise to a lot of people. It shocked those who weren’t adjacent to those circles, it angered lots of us who are, and it leaves us wondering about the what-ifs and the what-could-I-have-dones when the damage and the trauma are already deep.

What it further acknowledged was the continual prioritization of white comfort in the larger wine community: that these men had been known to prey on female candidates, and that their reprimands were comparable wrist-slaps to the otherwise consequential outcomes of other sexual harassment reckonings in the #MeToo era. Clearly it took bravery and courage to speak out against these violations and violences, and the women finally have an outlet to allay their concerns, but within the organization, the accountability is so non-existent that short of a full renunciation of their involvement with the court, the reliance on its pedigree and its brand is still what keeps them in the horrific system that they’re in. …


A how-to guide on how you and everyone else around you in the wine industry can change it for the better, one action at a time

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Photo by Andrew “Donovan” Valdivia on Unsplash

THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY

1. ACKNOWLEDGE THE PROBLEM.
Don’t bungle it like GuildSomm (I would link to their post but they deleted it!) or the Court of Master Sommeliers: if all it takes is you or your organization to say Black Lives Matter, say it. Admit that they do. And don’t give us the racist “aLL LiVeS mAtTeR” caveat that comes along with that — when a guest asks for Sancerre, do you give them Malbec? When a table needs their glasses topped up, do you go to another table? This is important because being vocal in the wine space, whether it’s social media or face-to-face, has been stigmatized and stereotyped to “angry” BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks who, really, are just asking to be treated the same as you have been. If everyone is on the same page, we can be much more productive in making change. This is a difficult step. Get ready to engage in the work.


We are in an extraordinary position to talk about the systemic changes necessary in order for the future and survival of sommeliership and the wine industry. There might not be many sommeliers working due to COVID-19, but there is still wine. There will always be wine. There will always be a structure for educating our staff and community about wine, but the current practices of legitimacy in the industry are rooted in a denial of access and education, kept behind closed doors with barriers of entry that are much too high.

The recent killings of Black people have also impacted our delicate relationship within our own community: the silence and passive reaction of the wine community at large, educational or otherwise, has been staggeringly disappointing. We are forced to reckon with past decisions as a status quo because there have been no inward calls for change in diversity, outreach, and access; in sum, the wine community continues to sell its BIPOC members short because white comfort, white money, and white privilege do not see any existing issues. …


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Use better words to describe this color, Troy. You earned a degree in journalism for fuck’s sake.

Troy, Troy, Troy: this sounds like a case of what we youngs say is “yucking someone’s yum.” It’s a bad, selfish take. The overarching pleasure of wine is the delight in sharing it and enjoying it, but also understanding that its very existence and each experience thus attached is valid.

But let’s also ponder why you had to write a two-star Yelp review about orange wine: “Each bottle of wine on offer was a natural wine… One of these, from Friuli, glowed tropically in my candlelit glass. The list explained orange wine as a white wine that is made like a red… An intense whirligig of tannins metallically attacked my mouth and, on the finish, there was an astringent sizzle, with undertones of acid reflux. … I found this to be a test of stamina.” …


the only one in the room

I was most recently at a wine conference where I was a panelist, and among the group of sommeliers they’d selected, the only one who was a person of color; there was only one other minority person and she was a white woman. The rest of the group were privileged, able, cis white men, some of whom owned their own businesses.

I didn’t feel like I stuck out like a sore thumb until I got to the grand tasting and it was myself and a handful of Asians — literally, I could count all the other Asians on one hand — that I did. …


Tamà is closed. In the version of what it was most currently, it won’t come back. Sad to say it, truly. But there’s hope for us yet.

Two years ago we were presented with an opportunity that felt too good to be true: our own space serving our own food to a neighborhood that we felt was deeply underserved and was worth getting to know. Bed-Stuy had never seen a Filipino restaurant, and where we were situated was along a food desert, populated only by a spare bodega here and there or a shuttered Chinese takeaway. …


I’ve really only felt alienated by language when I have to resort to pointing at pictures on a menu, or more often than not, a number, since there is no more depressing and aggravating feeling than not being able to communicate when you’re hungry. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had the propensity to learn other languages, so traveling isn’t so difficult until the words become things that look like other things in which case we all resort to pointing. Sometimes, not even at the menu, but at what looks good enough to eat, and with no bargaining power.

At the end of the day though, food crosses linguistic barriers; there is no other way to take the satiated, post-prandial sound of content, where you’re “in a good place” — just a sigh, and maybe a mmmmm to go along with it. …

About

Miguel de Leon

restaurant operator, wine director, sommelier. cal 05, nyc since 07. MNL -> LAX -> SFO -> NYC. //\\//\\ ig @migueld1 tw @migueld // he/him

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