June 20: Richard Betts, Master Sommelier from the American arm of the Court of Masters Sommeliers (CMSA), resigned from one of the most prestigious institutions in wine as he raises the issue of racism and gender preference and feels the organizational values have been at odds with his own for some time, according to a Post in Medium.com
Richard Betts (not MS anymore) also gives the reasons for his unprecedented decision in Medium.com. He says, ‘the recent global amplification of the long-ignored outcry for racial equality and social justice has elicited a complete lack of empathy from the CMSA,’ stressing that ‘this was the last straw. Coupled with the unjust annulment of the 2018 Masters exam, I have concluded that for myself, remaining a member would be to tacitly endorse the organization and its views’. He feels that the Court’s approach in dealing with the cheating scandal that rocked the institution in 2018 was not justified.
Diversity has reportedly long been an issue with the Court of Master Sommeliers, which skews the same way as most of the wine industry-male and white dominated. The problem, it seems, may not merely be about demographics.
While the website of Court of Master Sommeliers has deleted his name from the members’ list they have published the following message in the front page (it’s not clear when it was uploaded) that could be to assuage his feelings:
‘The Board of Directors of the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas universally condemns racism, prejudice, and racially motivated violence in all its forms. We stand in solidarity with the Black community against racial injustice and support calls for reform.
With great humility we commit to listening, learning, advocating and acting for change in our industry and our communities. We resolve to support initiatives for inclusion and diversity in the hospitality industry and to support organizations that create opportunities for the Black community and people of color to thrive as sommeliers, winemakers, distributors, retailers and beverage industry leaders. We pledge to do more within our organization to inspire and support those seeking to become Master Sommeliers.
In January we made a small but significant first step to encouraging more diversity in our industry by supporting the efforts of Wine Empowered (www.wine-empowered.com), a New York based non-profit committed to empowering women and people of color through tuition-free wine education. Organizationally, we are committed to seeking out more opportunities like this and others.
We encourage Master Sommeliers and beverage professionals to seek out and support Black-owned wine businesses. GuildSomm (www.guildsomm.com) has published a list available HERE.
It is interesting that the Court of Master Sommelier site has already taken down his name from the roster. When you go to the site, you don’t find his Name-Just a 404 Message- Page not Found-implying his resignation was accepted with immediate effect.
Richard Betts is no wine snob and he hates wine-speak. He has authored more than one book on wine and spirits- the one on wine ‘The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert: Take a Whiff of That,’ was published in 2013 and was a New York Times Best Seller. The cover of the book explains his philosophy as does his mantra, ‘wine is a grocery, not a luxury (our decision-makers in India need to understand this basic fact-editor).
He clarifies that he is not giving up and that he took the decision after expending a great deal of time, energy, and his own capital in an effort to affect change in the organization.
Appearing for the CMS exam first in 1997, he cleared the Final exam in 2003 in the first attempt. Coincidentally, this is the same year when the Indo-American Alpana Singh passed out of the same institute as Master Sommelier. He has served as a board member and taught dozens of courses and conducted exams over the past 17 years, during which time he realised that the by-laws evolved over the years effectively favour the old guard in running the board of directors which is responsible for shaping policy.
‘This is not the stance of a progressive or inclusive organization, it’s one of protectionism affording no reasonable opportunity for change on anything less than an extremely protracted timescale'. He does not endorse it and hopes his renunciation of the CMSA may bring the necessary change.
It is not common to renounce either the Court of Master Sommeliers CMS or the Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW), undoubtedly the top two wine education related organisations in the world. The titles of MS and MW are considered highly coveted by top wine professionals. Pancho Campo (MW) was the only professional who resigned from IMW in 2012 in the living history. The First Master of Wine from Spain was obliged to resign under circumstances that are not necessarily unique in today’s commercial wine world. But IMW felt-rightly or wrongly, that his actions were unethical though not illegal.
There are currently 269 Masters of Sommeliers in the world (actually 268 now after his resignation and duly reflected on the website, out of which 172 (64%) are from North and South America.
There are 396 Masters of Wine from 30 countries with about a third being women; including Sonal Holland as the sole Master of Wine from India. There is no Master Sommelier from India. Viraj Sawant is a Level 3 Advanced Sommelier and is preparing for the last leg of the exam.
It would be interesting to see what changes are actively sought to be encouraged in the bye-laws and how the Institute handles the racism charge. The recent movie UNCORKED on Netflix was a very interesting flick about a black young man aspiring to become an MS and who despite all odds makes it to the Final exam but does not pass. Although, it did not specifically point out fingers at the CMSA, it is recommended by delWine for all wine lovers.
For a few of the earlier related Articles, please visit:
Court of Master Sommeliers (MS) clears five for the Top Honour
Austria joins US and UK for Master Sommelier Exams
Seeds for SOMM to be Sowed in India
Easier to be a ‘Somm’ than a Master Sommelier
Vinisud 2012: Tips for Sommeliers from Top Sommelier
Blog: Singh- The Tee-Total True Singh
MS, MBA (no Master Sommelier but Master of Science from University of Minnesota, USA)
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