In 2003, Alpana Singh became, at age 26, the youngest American woman to achieve the rank of master sommelier, an elite and coveted designation in the world of wine. Bestowed by the Court of Master Sommeliers, it requires years of study and practice; many who attempt to earn it fail. Now, the popular host of WTTW Chicago’s Check, Please! is resigning her hard-won title in an act of solidarity.
Last week, a New York Times report revealed a dizzying number of allegations against senior members of the court, including rampant sexual harassment, sexual assault, and abuse. Since 1997, 155 people have earned master sommelier status; 24 are women, and the Times cites stories from 21 of them. A number had their careers halted after being subjected to alleged sexual manipulation by men who leveraged their standing in the wine industry. Seven people have since been suspended from the organization.
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I was the first South Asian and Woman of Color to become a Master Sommelier and now I am the first to resign. I renounced my title earlier today. I can’t say I stand with the survivors, BIPOC and members of the LGBTQIA community yet stay with the source of so much of their pain. You can read my statement by clicking the photo link in bio. I will have much more to say later but first I need to process and unpack. I also request that the focus remain on the survivors and getting them justice. Thank you.
As first reported by the Tribune, Singh — who is also the first woman of color to earn the master sommelier title — announced her resignation in on Instagram. In a follow-up blog post, she writes that she was “deeply devastated to learn of the hundreds of women, BIPOC and members of the LGBTQIA community who have been harmed by the members of this organization. I deeply regret that in the pursuit of my own comfort, I never asked questions into how the organization operated while continuing to leverage the title for monetary and personal gain. While I can’t go back and undo the harm that has already been done, I am willing to do the work to right the wrongs.”
- In an interview with Eater Chicago on Thursday, Singh — a popular industry figure in Chicago who, in addition to hosting Check, Please! is the owner of Terra & Vine in suburban Evanston — says before renouncing the title, she thought the court could be reformed. But her feelings shifted after speaking with fellow members, something she’s been doing over Zoom over the last few months.
Her emotions finally crystalized after the perspective of a Black wine professional — a friend of a friend — was relayed. That person likened efforts to reform the court to saving a Confederate monument — a symbol of a bigoted history the reminds marginalized people of the pain they’ve endured. The court, like the statues, aren’t worth keeping, Singh’s colleague told her. That testimonial convinced Singh to resign with the belief the court was beyond redemption and past “the point of no return.”
“It’s not if it could be saved,” Singh says. “It became should it be saved.”
The public shouldn’t doesn’t blame court members who remain at the organization, Singh says. Her former colleagues tell Singh that continuing with the court is a way to make sure the alleged behaviors don’t happen again: “They really want to stay and rebuild,” Singh says.
Writing the blog post was the first step, but Singh says she wants to do more to support the women who have come forward. She’s still processing, so she doesn’t have details yet, but she’s contemplating launching fundraisers for those affected, to ensure they have mental health resources. She also wants to share her wine knowledge by hosting video workshops to teach unemployed service industry workers about wine.
Singh is encouraging people to speak up about their experiences and says there are untold stories that need to come to light. She says there’s a reluctance to share — some feel their stories aren’t “that bad, they aren’t as bad as the other people’s.” But Singh contends there’s no proper way to measure or determine if a story is worthy of being shared in public.
“It’s not like there’s a thermometer,” she says.
- Report Details Litany of Sexual Abuse Experienced by Women in Master Sommelier Training [Eater]
- The Wine World’s Most Elite Circle Has a Sexual Harassment Problem [New York Times]
- Seven Master Sommeliers Suspended Following New York Times Sexual Harassment Bombshell [Eater]
- Alpana Singh, ‘Check, Please!’ host, renounces master sommelier title in solidarity with women accusing elite wine organization of sexual harassment [Tribune]
- My Resignation from The Court of Master Sommeliers [Alpana Singh]