It is with a heavy heart that I announce my resignation from the Court of Master Sommeliers Americas. While I am 100% clear that this decision is in the best interest of myself and the Court, the reasons are multifold, culminating in the simple affirmation of three words: Black Lives Matter
At this critical juncture in our history, we are afforded a golden opportunity to reach higher ground with racial equality. And if my values dictate that I am allied with Black Lives Matter, which I am, then it goes without saying that I should expect an organization I am affiliated with to be razor-clear on the issue of public support. Over the last couple days, I have come to learn they are not. And while the argument has been posed that living Black Lives Matter is far more constructive than any hollow proclamation, the truth of the matter is, if one is really committed to living Black Lives Matter, it should be immeasurably easy to say aloud. This simply isn’t a political issue; it’s the inception point of solidarity. And to not acknowledge it publicly, is to leave in darkness that which so desperately needs to be brought to light.
And here’s the thing. I know the CMSA’s stance does not represent the vast majority of Master Sommeliers. Unfortunately, it is their current position, made manifest by a structural inadequacy rather than the membership’s broader sentiment. Let me explain. There is a board of 12 Master Sommelier members. That board is the controlling influence of decision-making for the organization. And, for any given decision to be enacted, all 12 members must be in 100% agreement. What that means is if virtually every board member is in agreement on endorsing Black Lives Matter, except for 1 or 2 in dissent, then those 1 or 2 people who oppose the movement, in effect, become the unanimous voice for all of us. An ironic area of opportunity and precisely where we find ourselves now.
So I am faced with two choices: roll up my sleeves or step aside. If the public support of Black Lives Matter were the sole issue at stake, I may have considered staying and fighting for change from within. And I firmly believe that the CMSA will get there and I would not be surprised if they get there swiftly. I also feel the Court will take this leap regardless of anything I have said today, as I am confident there are impassioned members and a newly-appointed diversity committee, who are actively demanding a unified message as we speak, ahead of long-awaited reformation. They have my utmost respect and admiration.
As for me, sadly I must go. Had recent events not come to pass, perhaps I would not have tuned in to the other extenuating circumstances that have also brought me to this moment. The Court of Master Sommeliers is more than an accreditation. If you finish your PHD, you can drop the mic and be on your merry way. As a Master Sommelier, there are certain expectations of time, energy, and shared vision because you are a member of a collective body that should see eye to eye. That holistically MUST see eye to eye. And as I started to participate as an instructor at all levels, the issues and topics that I began to value in my evolution as a wine professional, issues like environmental awareness, tearing down pretension, cultural institutions of classist behavior, challenging elements of the exam and lecture content, were either divergent with the curriculum or not being heard.
For my part in all of this, times I was unreliable or phoned in my obligations as an instructor, I own this and apologize for not upholding my end of the bargain, as one who signed up for being an ambassador of “the global standard in excellence for beverage service within the industry with integrity, exemplary knowledge, and humility.” Guilty as charged. When a decent chunk of the world saw me pass an exam on camera, they saw a man who had never run a wine program and never worked as a sommelier outside of a few floor shifts. Hardly the embodiment of exemplary knowledge! And so I spent the last 9 years playing catch up, and in the twilight of that journey, gradual disillusionment abated my desire to contribute as a Master Sommelier. I haven’t taught a class or administered an exam in a couple years now. I am not proud of that. Disillusionment does not justify complacency. Within an organization, where an individual has endeavored to devote time and energy, on the backs of those who sacrificed much for him/her, there can be no dead weight.
I expect there will be many reactions to this decision. Some will be hurt. Some will be cynical. Some will be supportive. I know this because people are reacting the same way to Richard Betts’ decision to leave. Let me tell you something about Richard. He had been in the organization 17 years and served on the board at one time, so if anyone needs to use someone for target practice, use me. Here’s something else. When I first considered a path in wine, I read an article in 2007 penned by a Master Sommelier. I reached out to them in a cold email with advice. And in the belly of the financial crisis, they responded to countless questions of mine; everything from how to prepare for the exam, to detailed restaurant and winery recommendations, to words of encouragement at every level of the exam. That Master Sommelier was Richard Betts. He was the first MS I reached out to and the springboard to my journey with the Court of Master Sommeliers. Ironically, he is the one who has forced me to confront the truth that I have known for some time now, but failed to address.
While it is vital to hold fast to one’s ideals and to stand in opposition to that which is not nourishment for the soul or the common good, it is my belief that, in all matters of dealing, we add to our resolve a portion of love, however tough. I do not believe that we inspire meaningful change by drawing from the reservoir of hatred and dehumanization; an energy that, like adding logs to a fire, is continually perpetuated by our species. To do so, underpins that which we strive against and undermines all that we hope to see.
Let me be clear. I do not want the Court of Master Sommeliers to survive. I want them to thrive. I do not wish them to be dismantled or stonewalled. I wish them to be held to the flame, reconstructed, and lifted up to a global standard in excellence beyond their previous imaginings. I would encourage all of you to hold space for that evolution, while being active in your peaceful cries for reform, as I will in my new chapter. Today I am leaving the Court, but I have not disavowed them. Not that there isn’t a time to wash one’s hands, but I am hopeful instead that a day will soon come, when the many beautiful voices in this organization, who are allied with the right side of history, have the courage and fortitude to bring a greater ethos to bear.
Lastly, if your core values are at stake in the workplace or any affiliation, and you don’t believe that it is within you to elicit meaningful change, you are not quitting by removing yourself from the situation. What you are doing instead, is quitting the white noise that so often governs that way of life, an old way of life, in favor of your authentic self.