How it Feels to be a Master of Wine

I’ve taken a long time to write this post.  When I first found out way back in September that I had finally finished what I had been working towards tirelessly for 8 long years, it was somewhat surreal.

My sister, her husband, and my nephew were in town visiting with us.  It was Sunday night before Labor day and we were up late, enjoying each other’s company, drinking wine, and playing cards.  I knew the call was coming but I didn’t know when nor did I know the outcome.  When my phone rang it was an unknown number calling me at 11pm at night.  I answered and heard Penny Richard’s voice on the other end.

“Nova, you’ve done it! You are a Master of Wine.”

I numbly listened to the rest of the conversation replying with “Thank you”s and “Yes I understand” to the instructions that Penny was giving me.  I hung up the phone and got to work on signing the code of conduct and taking care of some business aspects that no one really prepares you for.  I then calmly went back to playing cards after being hugged all around and opening a bottle of Champagne I had set aside for just such an occasion.  It really didn’t feel real.  Almost immediately I began receiving congratulatory emails from the international MW community.  It was amazing but also daunting.  I replied to everyone eventually with my heartfelt thanks but it did take me some time.  The overwhelming and immediate support you get from the veteran MWs is amazing!

The Tuesday after Labor day, I went back to work.  I was inexplicably changed however it seemed that life, in its crazy, strange way, was infuriatingly normal.  This was such a bizarre feeling.  As if I was going around living someone else’s life for a time.  Then I began to receive interview requests as word began to trickle out into the general industry news.  This is when it started to feel more real.  As more and more people found out I began to hear from many old and current acquaintances, friends, and colleagues.  Many months of congratulations ensued leading up to the graduation in London in November of last year.

I was excited to return to London.  I had been there several times before both for work and pleasure and it’s always a fun city to visit.  We splurged on a hotel across the river from Big Ben and took our son on his first international adventure.  It was about spending time together and reconnecting as a family after so many years of hard work towards this goal.  We only had a few short days in London and I wanted to make the most of it with my family. We did all the standard touristy stuff including the London eye (which we could see up close and personally from our hotel room, the Tower of London, and a river cruise.  My son, to this day still asks when we are going to go back.

The Master of Wine Ceremony was and will remain one of the greatest highlights of my life.  I had to arrive early to the Vintner’s Hall for a briefing on the Institute and rehearsal for how things would go.   Walking into that historic building was the first real sense that I had accomplished something really astounding.  My seat was labeled with a sign proudly proclaiming “Nova Cadamatre MW”.  We took pictures all together, with family, and with members of the Institute then attended a reception prior to the ceremony itself.  My son, being newly 5 years old, still jet lagged, and over stimulated from the busy day, decided that was the time he wanted to take a nap and only I would do for that task.  There I was, in a moment that was once in a lifetime surrounded by so many amazing people that I would have loved to talk to with Champagne flowing, sitting in a corner with my child resting his head on my shoulder lightly snoring, remembering that regardless of what I accomplish in my life and professional career my most important role is that of “Mama” and nothing else comes before that.

“The roar that came up from the group was the most amazing experience.  It was deafening, echoing off the gilded walls and shaking the very rafters of the historical building.”

He woke up in time for me to line up for the ceremony.  We lined up at the back of the Hall as our guests and well wishers found seats and settled in.  As they announced us as the new MWs, we entered the back of the hall.  The roar that came up from the group was the most amazing experience.  It was deafening, echoing off the gilded walls and shaking the very rafters of the historical building.  Cheers, applause, whistles, congratulatory nods, smiles, and winks from those who I could briefly catch the eye of.  I wish I had thought to have someone video tape that moment we all walked down the aisle as new Masters of Wine.  It was unbelievable.

Then hearing your biography read as you approached the stage to gather your certificate, you can’t help but to reflect over the time that you worked for this moment.  The days and nights tasting and studying.  The moments on the weekends where you chose to do a practice exam rather than relaxing.  The money spent on tuition, wines, and travel. The dedication and sacrifice of time that it takes to accomplish something of this magnitude.  Those moments of dark times when you feel like the goal is so far away that it is almost unreachable.  Every person who ever told you you couldn’t do it and every person who told you that you could.  All of it floods into you as you rise to walk up to the stage as the final steps to your goal.  Even when they called my name as the winner of the Taransaud award, I was a bit in shock. It still didn’t really feel as though it were real.  It felt very dreamlike and although the magnitude was beginning to dawn on me it was far from normal for me at that point.

Finally, after the pomp and circumstance fades and you begin to adjust to life after MW, you realize that it was worth it and it is real.  I attended my first seminar as an MW in January in San Francisco.  I stood at the back of the room with my fellow MWs and realized that I had truly made it.  It wasn’t until that moment when I fully felt the journey was complete.  I had made it to the “other side of the table” and that was where I was meant to be.  I get to now look forward to a lifetime with the title of MW, which is so exciting.  I’m sure as the decades move forward, the 8 years it took me to achieve this, seeming so long in the moment, will feel like mere days as the full extent of the title, which  I am still discovering, unfolds during my life.

To my fellow MWs, I’m so excited to be among you.  Thank you for your support!

To people aspiring to walk down that same amazing aisle in London, the best advice I can give you is never give up.

Have faith in yourself, always believe it is possible, and be prepared to work hard and sacrifice for what you want.

Seriously? Instant Pot Wine – Why is this a thing?????

It is not often I have a WTF moment in winemaking however today I was introduced to the concept of instant pot wine.  You can read the entire post here but personally I have so many issues with this I’m not even sure where to start.

  • “This Guy (ME!) Figured out How to Make Instant Pot Wine”

I know he is excited, because making your own wine is exciting and cool but literally nothing he is doing is new or unusual in the grand scheme of winemaking.  He has figured out how to use a type of vessel (instant pot) to ferment wine in the most basic sense. He has joined the hundreds of years of winemaking tradition by doing the exact same thing.

If you plan to enter the world of home winemaking (which is also not new!) I highly recommend in investing in a couple of glass carboys and airlocks.  It takes the same amount of time as this guy’s wine in the instant pot and is easier and likely much cheaper.

  • Sanitizing with bleach!

Please don’t.  Please use something a bit more home winemaker and food friendly.  SO2 solutions work great for this.  So does Vodka.  Both are better than bleach. Ugh…

  • Ingredients… where to start?

Welch’s Grape Juice (64oz bottle)

There are a bunch of wineries around the US that cater to the home winemaker by storing juice for use in home winemaking.  If you insist on purchasing store bought juice make sure it is 100% grape juice and that it doesn’t contain preservatives such as Potassium Sorbate or Potassium Benzoate.  Other fruit juices can be tricky to ferment at home so I highly recommend starting with grape based juice until enough experience with fermentation is built up to branch out.

1 cup of sugar (granulated)

There were a lot of comments wondering why you had to add the sugar on this post.  The reason would be that grapes for grape juice are not picked at the higher sugar levels as grapes for wine.  So if you want your wine to have commercial wine like alcohols the sugar is needed.   This process is called Chaptalization after the French chemist Jean-Antoine-Claude Chaptal which was first recorded in 1765.  In Roman times, honey was used.

1 packet Lalvin Red Wine Yeast (They also have White Wine Yeast)

There are hundreds of types of wine yeast and they are not just limited to Red and White.  Go to your local home brewers supply store or look on Amazon.com.  It is widely available.

  • DO NOT CLOSE THE VENT!!!!

I’m not sure he really emphasizes this enough but this is a huge safety issue.  Yeast can build up a lot of pressure and can cause your instapot to turn into an insta explosion in your kitchen.  He actually encourages opening and closing the vent but in reality the vent should always be open.  I know the instapot is a pressure vessel but don’t take the chance. Another safety issue with home winemaking is CO2 build up. Please do not put the instapot into a confined space where there is not a lot of ventilation.  CO2 build up can also be a hazard depending on the volume of the fermentor.

  • Don’t drink a lot of mid-ferment wine.

This can lead to some uncomfortable stomach moments.  I’ll just leave it at that.

In Summary…

This is not new.

It has always been easy to make wine at home.  Just keep it under the legal limit of volume for home winemaking (200 gals per TTB regulations)

There are LOTS of great resources for home winemakers out there that are better than this DIY in a pressure cooker.

Winemaker Magazine

My friend’s book “The Winemaker’s Answer Book”

Presquile Wine Cellars Home Page

Midwest supplies home page

Just Google “Home Winemaking”

Planning for Unified

Courtesy of unifiedsymposium.org

This week the entire country decends upon Sacramento, CA for the 2018 Unified Wine and Grape Symposium. This is, by far, the largest wine focused trade show in the US. All the suppliers for anything having to do with grapes or wine are in attendance and one can easily just attend the exhibit halls and not see the entire show space. I like to attend the talks though. It starts on Tuesday with the Keynote luncheon. These talks are separate from the show itself which starts Wednesday but it never fails to be inspiring and full of good information. Tomorrow’s speaker is Gina Gallo of the winemaking giant Gallo. Gina is known to have been one of the driving forces behind repositioning the company towards higher end wines so her insight into the industry I’m sure will be interesting. After last year’s luncheon with wine writer Eric Asimov, I walked away with close to 10 pages of notes. To save my hand, I’ve brought my SurfacePro this year and fully anticipate getting some good information again.

Another one of my favorite highlights is the “State of the Industry” talk which kicks off the main part of the symposium on Wednesday morning. Having any one of the speakers present their information to you would cost you well beyond the price of an admission ticket but the panel of people that they assemble for this gives a very detailed look at the state of the industry in California. Although global issues are touched on it is a CA driven talk but there are always good parallels to be gleaned. Since CA makes up 90% of the wine industry in this country, knowing where CA is going gives good insight into where the market is going.

The rest of the day is split into “tracks” with multiple sessions being held at the same time for viticulture, winemaking, and marketing. It never fails that I end up wanting to go to two or three talks the happen at the same time and need to make a game day decision.

Thursday tends to be a lighter talk day with less in depth subjects so that usually ends up being my trade show day. You MUST go to the trade show with a plan. Inevitably, one will run into a bunch of friends and colleagues and it will take three times as long as you expect to cruise down each aisle as you find people to catch up with you haven’t seen in years.

The social aspect of the show cannot be discounted either. Planning one’s dinner and after party schedule is almost as hectic as planning what you want to see at the show itself. The bars at the two main hotels, The Sheraton Grand and the Hyatt Regency, are guaranteed hang out spots for after late night activities. I have often wondered if they prepare for this week like generals preparing for battle. Getting a room at one of these hotels is a feat in itself since they are snapped up within seconds of being released. I felt it was a major accomplishment to have gotten a room at the Hyatt for this year’s show. I’ve never been on top of it enough to have booked one of these rooms before without being a speaker.

However you look at it, Unified is one of the key meeting of the minds of the US wine industry. Regardless of your geographic location, there is a wealth of information here for anyone who wants it.

Photo from UnifiedSymposium.org