New York Wine & GrapeNews



Nova Cadamatre: A few questions with the newest Master of Wine

Valerie Ross

Category: Industry

Nova Cadamatre: What it Takes to Reach the Top…and What Happens Next
A few questions with the newest Master of Wine

We were so pleased to get the email last week that the Institute of Masters of Wine announced its 14 new Masters of Wine, one of which is our friend, Nova Cadamatre! Nova is the first female winemaker in the US to achieve the title of Master of Wine and one of very few American winemakers to do so. She resides in the beautiful Finger Lakes of upstate NY with her husband, Brian, and son, Nathaniel. Currently, she is Director of Winemaking for Canandaigua Winery for whom she makes the 240 Days wines; a Riesling, dry Rose, and Cabernet Franc. She also is the owner of Trestle Thirty One, a new, high end, boutique winery making age worthy dry Riesling. 

New York Wine & Grape Foundation (NYWGF): So, how does it feel to be the first female winemaker in the United States to pass the masters of wine exam? 

Nova Cadamatre (NC): It feels amazing just to pass, but to be the first female winemaker to achieve it is still pretty unbelievable.  I’d like to think that it means women are taking on a more prominent role in the industry overall.  I have worked with so many talented women so I’m always a little skeptical of the numbers that only show 10% of the winemakers in this industry are women.   

NWGF:  There are many certificates and programs for wine and wine & spirits education at this point. Can you tell us a little bit about the difference between the Masters of Wine program and the Master Sommelier program, for instance.

CM:  Definitely. The Master of Wine (MW) and the Master Sommelier (MS) programs are the top certifications for this industry.  The MW is more production and industry focused while the MS is more service oriented.  I think each serves a very important role but are quite different in their approach to wine.  There are many other certifications including the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) out of London, the lower level Sommelier certifications, Certified Specialist of Wine, and Certified Wine Educator certificates.  I’ve gone through the WSET program and I highly recommend that for increasing general wine knowledge.  I started with level 3 and then went onto my Diploma as a stepping stone for my MW. 

What advice would you have for recent college grads who would like to enter this field? 

NC: Try to get internships in as many different areas of the world as possible.  It’s important to learn widely and from as many winemakers in as many styles as possible when you are young. By having this wide breadth of experience, you can draw on it later in life when you begin to specialize. 

NYWGF: A lot of people have seen the movie "SOMM" by now and know how rigorous that exam process is and how dedicated the professional must be to pass. Tell us a about the level of commitment needed to study for the MW exam. How did that affect you?

NC: Over the 8 years I studied to become an MW, it became part of my job and home life.  There were weekend mornings that were totally dedicated to tasting with a group when I was out in California. I traveled extensively to learn as much as I could.  I spent late nights up studying and lunch breaks mind-mapping theory questions.  Every time I flew I took theory questions with me to mind-map and write full essays for.  My family was incredibly supportive although I know by the time I passed both the Theory and the Practical (Tasting exam) 7 years in, it was starting to wear on all of us. 

NYWGF:  Can you let us in "behind the scenes" of the exam process? How long does it take and how many parts does it consist of?

NC: There are three equally weighted parts of the exam; Theory, Practical (tasting), and the Research Paper.  One cannot attempt the RP prior to passing both the Theory and Practical exam.  These two sections are given together over 4 days.  The Practical is in the morning of days 1-3 and consists of 3 papers each with 12 wines.  Paper 1 is the white paper, Paper 2 is the red paper, and Paper 3 is a mixed bag which can have anything from the entire world of wine on it including sparkling, fortified, and dessert style wines.  You have 2 hours and 15 minutes to answer a variety of questions of each of the wines.  The Theory consists of 5 sections; Paper 1 – Viticulture, Paper 2- Vinification, Paper 3 – Finishing, Packaging, QA/QC, Transportation, and storage, Paper 4 – Business, Marketing and Sales, and finally Paper 5- Contemporary issues (Social, health, environmental, philosophical, etc.).  Unlike the MS, the MW exams are all posted on the institute’s website so if you are very curious (or are studying for the exam already) you can review all the previous exams there. I’ve heard that somewhere between 3-8% of students who start the program end up as MWs.  It is a long process but just being in the program is helpful even if one doesn’t eventually get to use the letters.

NYWGF: What was your biggest fear and/or what were you most looking forward to at the exam.

NC: For all the fears MW students face please see my blog on the topic. That about covers it! I was looking forward to passing the exam mainly although there were many moments going into the exam where I was really excited to see what theory questions they would ask.  It got to the point where I was so familiar with all the past exams that the different permutations of questions became interesting.  How do you ask the same thing in a slightly different way so you aren’t really asking the exact same thing?  It was fun.   

NYWGF: We know your background is in viticulture and your work has taken you from coast to coast. Tell us about the difference between working for a long-established company like Mondavi and starting up your own boutique wine label.

NC: Both experiences are vastly different.  Some things are incredibly easy at a large company since there is a great team to back you up and other things are incredibly hard.  For my small project, it is almost the opposite.  The items like compliance, taxes, price posting etc. that just happen at a large company are all on your shoulders and I’ve had to really learn a lot more about how wine companies work from doing my own project.  It’s been an amazing and exhausting (from a paperwork perspective) experience.  Winemaking is easier however with Trestle Thirty One because I was able to have complete freedom and take risks that I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking with anyone else’s money.  I knew I was on the edge of Riesling winemaking and it could have very easily ended up a disaster.  I also knew that I was making a wine that not everyone would like or even understand.  I love it and it turned out so much more amazing than I had hoped.  

NYWGF: So, where do you go from here... is this the top of the mountain?

NC: I’m still working that out.  This is the top of this mountain but who says you can’t climb more than one?  I have plenty on my plate between my work with Constellation, Trestle Thirty One, my blog, and my Chinese project which now has to be sold.  I’m excited to see what being involved with the institute will be like on the other side of the table and I’m looking forward to helping students not find all the pitfalls that I found. I haven’t come up with my next big goal yet but I’m sure something will work itself out.  I have noticed that I do need to transition back to "normal." Now not every glass of wine must be an opportunity to study for the test. I can enjoy the wine without picking it apart! I'm happy that I've held onto my passion for continually learning about wine - and for drinking it. Some candidates go through the MW program and come out saying "I just can't drink any more wine." That didn't happen to me.  I have had a lot of champagne over the last few days, for example.

NYWGF: What do you see the intersection for Masters of Wine and the public? How can you best educate someone who wants to have fun with wine and be more educated in their buying and consumption? 

NC: For me, that's my blog. I've spoken at a lot of wine events and conferences and there was "low hanging fruit" or the questions that always seemed to come up. I have a lot of that information already on my blog, and sometimes I get a little more technical in terms of winemaking. 

NYWGF:  We were thinking...shouldn't they make a documentary about masters of wine too? Why do somms have all the fun?

NC:  They absolutely should.  It is a very similar process though so it would be interesting how a film maker could make it differently from how they made SOMM.