‘Godfather’ of US wine Fred Dame, 68, has his Master Sommelier titled and his membership to the Court of Sommeliers, America revoked after sexual misconduct investigations closed
The ‘Godfather’ of US wine Fred Dame is among six master sommeliers to be stripped of his title after he slapped female colleagues on the backside and touched them inappropriately, a wide-ranging sexual misconduct probe has found.
Dame, 68, had his membership revoked by the Court of Master Sommeliers, America, a prestigious non-profit, after a wide ranging probe into sexual misconduct allegations.
A total of 21 women accused Dame and the five other master sommeliers in October 2020 of sexual harassment in separate instances.
The other men expelled from the court on Wednesday include, Robert Bath, Fred Dexheimer, Drew Hendricks, Joseph Linder, and Matt Stamp. The decision will be finalized within 30 days and the men have that time period to appeal.
A seventh member, Geoff Kruth, 46, who was also originally accused but left the organization before the investigation started, has also been banned from ever reapplying for reinstatement, the Court disclosed in a statement.
The six men stripped of their titles were accused of a range of inappropriate behavior, which includes non-consensual touching, flirting, and exploitative sexual relationships, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Dame (pictured with Tasting Panel Magazine Editor Meredith May in 2007) was accused, alongside five other men, of inappropriate touching and sexual advances. Two women accused Dame of slapping their backsides at a professional event and several accused him of inappropriate touching
Dame (second left, 2010) attended many lavish parties and was apart of the ‘male-dominated culture’ of the Court
Five other men will lose their memberships as well, including Joseph Linder (left) and Matt Stamp (right). Stamp was caught up in a cheating scandal in 2018, where all 24 new inductees were suspended after cheating allegations came forward. The sommelier admitted to having sexual relationships with two women who took that exam
All the men were accused of a range of inappropriate behaviors, which includes non-consensual touching, flirting, and exploitative sexual relationships. The court didn’t specify which allegations were associated with which man. Bath, who was one of the first to gain the title of Master Sommelier in the US, was suspended from the Court from 2007 to 2009 after multiple sexual misconduct allegations
In a statement released on Wednesday, the Court said: ‘The investigation findings confirmed that perceived power was exploited by members of the organization.’
Drew Hendricks was accused by one woman of asking her ‘Are you at least going to give me a pair of panties to snuggle with’ while he slept on her couch and she denied allowing him in her bed. He denied saying that
Dame, who is a co-founder of the American Court of Sommeliers, was accused by several women of unwanted touching. Two women, Liz Dowty Mitchell, 37, who is now the curator of No Limit Wine Club, and Victoria James, 30, who is a director at Michelin-starred Manhattan restaurant Cote, also accused Dame of slapping their backsides.
James also claimed she had sex with Kruth, who resigned, and said she thought if she ‘appeased him’ he would ‘go away’, according to the New York Times.
‘The sad thing is that you get used to being beholden to men in this industry. I felt like I didn’t have a choice,’ she told the publication.
Known as the ‘godfather of US wine’, Dame had a storied career and starred in the 2013 documentary, titled Somms, that followed four sommeliers as they prepared for the Master Sommelier exam. He started his career at the Sardine Factory in Monterey, California, in the 1980s and was a brand ambassador for Daou Vineyards in Paso Robles until October 2020, when the scandal broke.
The Court’s independent investigation found that master sommeliers were perceived as ‘untouchable’ and they abused their ‘titles’ to engage in ‘unethical behavior,’ in a ‘male-dominated culture.’
Of the 172 master sommeliers in America, only 28 of them are women. One of the women, Emily Wines – a master sommelier in Oakland, California – is a chair on the board of directors for the Court.
Twenty-one women detailed their experiences to The New York Times in October 2020, with an unnamed accuser claiming that one of the expelled sommeliers, Drew Hendricks, had asked her for her underwear ‘to snuggle with’ while they were in Texas.
Another, who allowed Hendricks to sleep on her couch after a night of drinking, said he had asked to share her bed before asking allegedly asking her: ‘Are you at least going to give me a pair of panties to snuggle with?’ He denied asking her that.
Another said he stopped her in a hotel lobby and grabbed her breasts, she told The New York Times.
Another woman claimed she was raped by a prominent master sommelier in New York City after meeting him at a wine event and that one master had proposition at least 15 candidates and promised them professional favors for sex, The New York Times reported.
The slur ‘sommsucker’ – a slur used for women who have relationships with members of the Court – was prominently used.
Eleven women alone accused Kruth of sexual misconduct.
Liz Dowty Mitchell, 37, (left) and Victoria James, 30, (right) accused Dame of slapping their backsides at professional events. James also claimed she had sex with Kruth, who resigned, and said she thought if she ‘appeased him’ he would ‘go away’, according to the New York Times.
Madeleine Thompson, 29, (left) told The New York Times: ‘Sexual aggression is a constant for women somms. We can’t escape it, so we learn to live with it.’ Christina Chilcoat, 36, (right) said Kruth had invited her to his New Orleans hotel room to taste some ‘special bottles’ after his master class on Champagne. He was allegedly naked when he opened the door.
Jane Lopes, 36, a wine importer from New York, who know works with Australian wine import company Legend, accused Kruth – who left the organization before being expelled – of slipping his fingers inside her underwear and kissing her breast after a 2013 dinner.
Another woman, Courtney Schiessl, 31, said Kruth had asked her which bartender she’d choose to have sex with after he asked her to join him for drinks following an event. She said he later told the taxi driver to take them both to his hotel and skip hers.
Christina Chilcoat, 36, who last associated with San Antonio-based Royal Blue Grocery in 2019, said Kruth had invited her to his New Orleans hotel room to taste some ‘special bottles’ after his master class on Champagne. He was allegedly naked when he opened the door.
Geoff Kruth, 46, (pictured) was accused by 11 women in an explosive New York Times article, where one woman accused him of slipping his fingers into her underwear and kissed her breast, while another said he invited her up to his hotel room to taste ‘special bottles’ and answered the door naked. He left before the investigation started and the Court said he will not be allowed to apply for reinstatement
Robert Bath, who was one of the first to gain the title of Master Sommelier in the US, was suspended from the Court from 2007 to 2009 after multiple sexual misconduct allegations. He was last known to be a consultant for Alpha Omega Collective in Napa Valley. It is unknown if he is still apart of the company. He is also a Professor of Wine and Beverage The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone and a co-owner of Robert Bath Imports.
Matt Stamp was caught up in the cheating scandal in 2018 where all 24 new inductees were suspended for allegations of cheating. Stamp later resigned from the board after his sexual relationship with two women who took the exam at that time came to light.
‘I will learn and grow from my mistakes and accept today’s decision with a heavy heart,’ he said at the time.
In September 2020, the first hotline for anonymous reporting was set up. Before, no other option besides approaching the board was available to report ethical violations, including assault.
Jane Lopes (pictured) accused Kruth of slipping his fingers inside her underwear and kissing her breast after a 2013 dinner
Many of the men accused were on the board.
Jonathan Ross, 38, who has been a member of the Court since 2017, told The New York Times: ‘Among certain men, there’s no attempt to hide it and no shame in it. It’s like something from another era.’
The Court is offering ‘individualized support’ for survivors.
‘We acknowledge that we will never fully understand the pain, trauma, and negative impact that the actions of select members of our organization caused you; we also acknowledge that our organization did not have the proper safeguards in place to ensure a safe and equitable learning environment,’ the Court wrote in letter to survivors.
‘For this, we are deeply, deeply sorry. Our commitment to you is that no other person will have to experience what you went through in our organization.’
Fred Dexheimer owns the Wine Tasting Accelerator, an online wine tasting education program and is a founding partner in Master & Shake, a beverage marketing collaboration.
Drew Hendricks is currently employed by Mexcor Imports, which imports international wines, according to his LinkedIn.
Joseph Linder was last listed as self-employed. It is unclear what he operates.
Matt Stamp was on the Court’s board in 2014 and has since worked with GuildSomm and SommCon to provide classes and has written for various publications. It is unclear where he is currently employed.
DailyMail.com has contacted Fred Dame and Daou Vineyards for comment.