The worst kept secret in the wine industry finally broke in The New York Times in early November. Approximately 21 women accused several men, many in leadership roles with the Court of Master Sommeliers, of sexual harassment, manipulation or assault. Here’s the article in Wine Searcher summing up the ugliness (without the paywall).
When it was published, there was a crescendo of outrage and anger, but unfortunately no one was shocked. The wine media, with the exception of a few independent journalists other than The New York Times, stayed silent for days. My friend, Alfonso Cevola, who writes On the Wine Trail in Italy showed me a series of photos taken at TEXSOM over the years showing a pattern of exclusivity and privileged behavior. Having been at several of those events myself, the pictures paint an industry without accountability, transparency or consequences. In fact, it took days after The New York Times published for any action to take place.
This has gone on far too long, but it’s not isolated to wine, it’s just a reality for women trying to break any glass ceiling. During my career, I have worked my way up to be one of the only women in the C-suite and that can often be a lonely place.
That isolation can often come from trying to navigate a good, old boy culture in which women either feel they can’t speak up or will be deemed as troublesome if they do. So, you build your wall and your repertoire of stories.
Golden Gloves 1994 Fight of the Night Trophy
I talked about this in detail with Jeff Siegel, The Wine Curmudgeon, on his podcast about my corporate stories of being fired by fax for “failure to fulfill client expectations” after refusing to sleep with a client. Or the time that I put my Golden Gloves Fight of the Night on my desk after joining a global software company due to the relentless “take what you want” culture. Or the time I had to assemble my entire global marketing team to leave an event because a board member was hitting on one of our young, pretty 22-year-old employees so we could walk her home safely.
When The New York Times story hit, I knew many of the women and some of the men mentioned. I had no personal bad experience with those named, but believe there are many more who will come forward as this is a pervasive problem. I was a writer and therefore not beholden to anyone, which fueled the predatory cycle mentioned above, but I have my own experiences of sexual harassment with wine. I’ve since left the corporate world and run my own consulting firm, where I choose to work with the good guys. I’m happy to say in five years I’ve not had any similar experience in the world of business. However, one look at direct messages on Instagram on my Dallas Wine Chick account shows a very different story.
The Moment I Knew I Had to Share
I am thankful to writers I don’t know yet like Dwight Furrow who chose to share my podcast story on his Edible Arts blog. Originally, it was not my intention to write about my story, but the reaction of my 15-year-old when she listened to the podcast made me realize that it’s time to step up as it is only then we make change happen. The dark curtain has been unveiled and women deserve so much better.
Updated 11/16 with photo link