Master sommelier and head of GuildSomm resigns after string of women accuse him of sexual misconduct
The founder and president of GuildSomm, a wine educational organization for top sommeliers, has resigned after a string of women accused him of sexual misconduct.
Geoff Kruth, 45, resigned last week ahead of an explosive New York Times article published on Thursday, in which eleven women accused him of sexual harassment or sexual assault.
Among the claims, women allege that Kruth groped them, coerced them into sex, sent an inappropriate guide to oral sex on Facebook, and greeted them naked in his hotel room after an invite to taste some ‘special bottles’.
Kruth could not be immediately reached by DailyMail.com, but his attorney told the Times that he denied any impropriety, and that any sexual liaisons were consensual.
The article also alleges a wider culture of sexism and sexual misconduct within the elite world of wine professionals, and implicates the prestigious Court of Master Sommeliers, which confers the coveted title of master sommelier.
Since the Americas chapter of the Court was founded in 1997, only 155 people have achieved master sommelier status, among them Kruth, who was prominently featured in the Netflix documentary Somm. Of those 155, 131 are men.
Geoff Kruth, 45, resigned as president of GuildSomm last week ahead of an explosive article, in which eleven women accused him of sexual harassment or sexual assault
In a statement following the Times article, Court of Master Sommeliers Chairman Devon Broglie said that Kruth’s group GuildSomm is not affiliated with the Court, and that Kruth is not a leading educator for the Court.
‘Racism, sexism, or any other form of discrimination has no place within the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas, nor the hospitality industry as a whole,’ Broglie said.
‘This Board applauds the courage of those who have spoken up, as it shines a light on an area where we can hold our members more accountable to the mission of excellence in hospitality to which we aspire,’ he continued.
In the Times article, a number of women came forward with a series of disturbing allegations against Kruth.
Jane Lopes, 35, a wine importer in New York, said Kruth suddenly slid his fingers inside her panties and kissed her breast as they said good night after a 2013 dinner.
Christina Chilcoat, 35, a sommelier in Jacksonville, Florida, said that in 2015 Kruth opened the door to his New Orleans hotel room naked, having invited her and a friend to taste some ‘special bottles’ after his master class on Champagne.
Rachel van Til (left) says Kruth sent Facebook messages with a guide to oral sex positions, asking which was her favorite. Victoria James (right) says that Kruth coerced her into sex, and offered to write a recommendation letter in exchange for sexual favors
Rania Zayyat, 33, the wine director at Bufalina Pizza, said Kruth messaged her on Facebook after meeting her at a class he taught in 2015, commenting on a selfie she posted and complimenting her eyes before urging her to meet him at a Florida tasting competition
Rachel van Til, 30, was a wine director at a restaurant near Detroit in 2015, when she says Kruth offered to mentor her — an exciting prospect. Van Till provided Facebook messages showing that Kruth had sent her a guide to oral sex positions, asking which was her favorite.
‘I know better than to be that level of frank with my professional connections,’ replied van Til tactfully, the messages show.
She submitted a formal complaint to the Court’s board, which granted her request to bar Kruth from judging her future exams.
Ivy Anderson, a sommelier in Charleston, South Carolina, said she was 22 when Kruth contacted her after she had taken one of his classes, saying he had noticed that she had bought a ticket to GuildSomm’s 2016 holiday party in New York.
Anderson said that Kruth invited her to dinner and to stay in a Manhattan hotel with him and other Court members. She accepted, assuming she would be crashing on a sofa.
Ivy Anderson alleges that Kruth coerced her into having sex in 2016. Jane Lopes said Kruth suddenly slid his fingers inside her panties and kissed her breast as they said good night after a 2013 dinner
Christina Chilcoat (left) said that in 2015 Kruth (right) opened the door to his New Orleans hotel room naked, having invited her and a friend to taste some ‘special bottles’ after his master class on Champagne
She said that she was shocked to find just one room with a single bed, and that Kruth told her he and his wife had an open relationship, and that sex between master sommeliers and candidates was common.
‘I can’t reject this person,’ she told the Times she remembered thinking. ‘It’s freezing cold, I know no one in New York, and he’s going to throw me out in the street.’ Back in his hotel room, she said, she felt that going along when he initiated sex was her only option.
Victoria James, the wine world star who became the country’s youngest sommelier at a Michelin-starred restaurant at age 21, also said that Kruth had coerced her into sex.
James, now 29 and a partner and beverage director at Cote, told the Times that she won a place on a tasting trip to Switzerland led by Kruth in 2014. On the trip, he repeatedly angled to get her away from the group and into her hotel room, James said.
Eventually, they had sex. ‘I thought it would appease him and he would go away,’ she said. ‘The sad thing is that you get used to being beholden to men in this industry,’ James told the Times. ‘I felt like I didn’t have a choice.’
Courtney Schiessl said that when she assisted Kruth at a 2013 event in Chicago, he asked her out for cocktails afterward and inquired which of the bartenders she would choose for sex
James said that a year later, Kruth offered to write a recommendation letter she needed if she would meet him for sex at an event in Texas. She did, and immediately got off the waiting list for an exam she needed.
Through a lawyer, Kruth told the Times that he believed that all the sexual encounters the women described were consensual, and that many of the women remained on good terms with him.
Kruth said he was invited to James’s and Lopes’s subsequent weddings. He also said he did not give special treatment to women with whom he had sexual contact.
Additionally, Rania Zayyat, 33, the wine director at Bufalina Pizza, said Kruth messaged her on Facebook after meeting her at a class he taught in 2015, commenting on a selfie she posted and complimenting her eyes before urging her to meet him at a Florida tasting competition.
The Court of Master Sommeliers said in a statement that it has created formalized process for reporting ethical issues and concerns.
‘We were disheartened to hear that candidates and students in our community felt powerless to speak up, and we are making strides to address this power dynamic and offer a safe way to report misconduct without fear of retribution,’ Chairman Broglie said.
In June, the Court of Master Sommeliers Americas said it would stop addressing its top wine experts as ‘master’ after the practice generated accusations of racism.