Napa sommelier certification group, rocked by harassment allegations, names female leader

Napa-based The Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas, rocked by published allegations last year that female candidates for its prestigious certification where sexually harassed, manipulated or assaulted by male master sommeliers, has named a new executive director.

Julie Cohen Theobald, former marketing executive and leader of a theater nonprofit, takes her post in September, the group announced Wednesday. Those seeking the certification of master sommelier face tastings and exams. The Americas arm of the organization was established in 1987. Genderwise, the group is predominately male.

In November, the New York Times reported that nearly two dozen women reported being sexually harassed or assaulted as they sought certification under the guidance of one of the group’s master sommeliers. Their complaints to leadership of the organization were largely ignored, the newspaper reported. After the story appeared, the group announced seven members were being suspended and more than two dozen women members of the group issued a public apology and demanded reforms.

The announcement of the new executive director does not make a direct reference to the allegations or the New York Times story.

“Theobald will spearhead efforts and work alongside the Board of Directors for continued positive change within the organization,” the group said.

It later added, “In a period of rapid change and growth, the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas is committed to drive both internal and external change by engaging with its members, stakeholders, and larger community.”

Theobald said in the news release that she wants to "bring a new vision to life in reshaping this historic wine education and examination body to make it into an organization that is more inclusive, accessible, and transparent while upholding the values of integrity, exemplary knowledge, and humility.“

As the first female executive director and CEO of nonprofit arts organization Educational Theatre Association, Theobald doubled its operating budget, forged new partnerships and transformed the widely respected nonprofit into a twenty-first century organization, the sommelier group stated.

She previously worked at Procter & Gamble, helping the consumer products giant launch Febreze internationally and is credited with leading the $2 billion Tide detergent brand to its fastest growth in its 60-year history.

She holds an MBA from the University of Chicago in business economics and marketing, and a Bachelor of Arts from Duke University in public policy.

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