Tag Archives: Master of Wine Exam

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.

Twas the Day Before the MW Exam…Again

Here we are again.  I am getting ready to sit the Master of Wine examination for the 6th time.  It’s interesting because it now seems like just another day in the life of an MW student.  I can look back to my first exam and I was so excited and slightly nervous driving to the exam, my thoughts of almost certain passing scores running through my mind with the blind optimism that I had at the time.  That was 7 years ago and with each attempt my mindset has changed from excitement to dread and everywhere in between.  The positive aspect of having to sit multiple times is there is no longer an uncertainty of what to expect. I have a routine of sorts.  Today, my task is to see how long it takes to walk from my friend’s house to the exam site and to procure lunch for the next four days.  I usually scope out a place for food and order the same thing for all four days and pay up front with a specific pick up time each day so that I can pack up from the morning exam and calmly walk out of the building to my pre-determined lunch spot, walk in, grab my package and walk calmly out.  On these challenging days, it helps to not be panicked about “Where am I going to eat? What am I going to eat? Will it be ready in time? Will I have to wait anywhere?”  Any level of stress removal that can be done will be done.

Tomorrow, I’ll get up and try to arrive with plenty of time to the exam site.  I hope I can walk with no issues however hauling glasses and my computer up and down the quite steep streets of San Francisco may prove to be too much in the mornings. We’ll see on my explorations today.  I know exactly what the room looks like because I’ve been there before just like I knew what to expect when the exam was held at Opus One in Napa.  In 2012, when I passed my theory section, the winemaking position had just been posted for Robert Mondavi Winery and there I was sitting in Opus One getting ready for the first day of the exam, 5 months pregnant with Nathaniel doing somersaults in my womb, staring at photographs of Mr. Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild feeling like fate was laughing at me in some way, daring me to try for more.  This time with the exam being held at the Constellation Office in San Francisco, I can’t help but feeling a little bit of the relaxing feeling of playing on your home court even though I’ve never had an office there.

This time I’m sitting the entire exam again; both the tasting and the theory sections.  It is a marathon.  Four full days of doing nothing but thinking solely about wine and typing for hours on end.  I am not the only lunatic in the world doing it either!  According to Penny Richards, Executive Director of the Institute of the Masters of Wine, 138 students of the 310 total in the program are sitting this year.  It is a record number of people sitting the exam at the three locations around the globe; London, San Francisco, and Sidney.

If you are interested to see what my fellow students and I went through this week, look for the exam details to be released on June 13th, a week from today.  I find out results on September 5th which is Labor Day in the US so I’ve decided that must be a good sign that I will already be off of work and celebrating on the day that I get them.

Best of luck to all my fellow exam takers! Here we go again…

 

 

 

Of What are MW Students Afraid? Or Why I’m Out of Reasons to be Afraid.

This week marks the beginning of my 7th MW seminar.  This blog will be 6 years old in March so I have managed to chronicle most of my triumphs and despairs on it.  When one come into the program as a “first year” (yes it’s very Hogwarts-esque) there are lots of feelings one has to deal with.  The excitement of being in the program and on my way to becoming an MW is what I remember most from my first year.  That first seminar was an eye opener.  It was so amazing to be in the same room with so many people as passionate about wine as I was.  I also remember getting half way through the seminar and finding one of my fellow First Years in the hallway, freaking out because he had not realized how much effort it was going to take to prep for the exam.  “I’m 40 years old,” he said. “I don’t have time to do all this.” Which brings me to fear #1.

How do I find time to do all of this?

Like Nike always says, JUST DO IT. You make time.  If it is important enough in your life, you make time for it.  I’ve been up until midnight working on assignments, I’ve read wine books on airplanes, and I’ve gotten up at 5 in the morning to work on notes. I’ve fallen asleep on my practical notebook and woken up with three ring binder imprints in my cheek.  No one said this is easy and no one is forcing anyone to do it.  Just make it a priority if it’s that important.  If it’s not that important, save your money and don’t put yourself through this.

What if I fail my first year assessment so badly that they kick me out?

Every successful MW student comes to the end of their first year with this fear. If one doesn’t have this fear then one is either are a freaking genius with nothing else going on or so egotistical that one doesn’t realize that they don’t know everything.  I’ve seen more of the latter than the former.  The vast majority fall into the camp somewhere in between that they have at least pondered this fear at one point or another.  The first year assessment is the last gas station on a long road through the desert and those that have done the prep are usually fine. On rare occasions, students will be asked to repeat the first year or move to the second year without sitting the exam at the end but most are just fine. You stop in, fill up, get supplies and then set off into the “Second Year.”

What if they figure out I don’t know everything?

At some point in the journey to the MW, you begin to feel like a little bit of a fraud. It seems so many people around you have it all figured out and you are just waiting for someone to point out that you really are dumb at something and shouldn’t be here.  I’ve heard this come out of the mouths of MW’s who have passed it all and are still wondering how it happened (I won’t mention names of course).  What you eventually come to realize is that it is impossible to know everything and each student has their strengths and weaknesses.  The key is to find students that have your weaknesses as strengths and hang out with them.  Pick their brains, don’t be afraid to ask dumb questions, and learn all you can from them.  I have always found that my fellow students were some of the best resources for knowledge and the seminar gives you a week to befriend as many as possible to share knowledge with.  They are in the same boat so they understand the detail which you need to glean.  People who are not in the program are helpful but generally not as helpful as students who are walking in the same trench you are.

What if I fail the exam?

At the end of your second year it is time to sit the exam. Nowadays, students only have the option of putting this off a year if they don’t feel ready but must sit during their second “second year”.  Back in the day, when I started this trek, you could wait almost indefinitely to sit the exam which resulted in many students that didn’t feel ready, not sitting for years.  The second year is the doldrums.  It is truly the most depressing part of the program.  The more “second years” you go through the more depressing it is.  I’ve heard many a student say “But what if I fail? I’ve used up one of my three chances to pass!”  So what?  You’ve failed.  You have more chances and are the wiser for trying it.  The only way to become an MW is to pass the exam and the only way to pass the exam is to sit the exam.  If you fail, you have lost nothing and have probably gained valuable experience and knowledge along the way (if you have properly prepped for the exam, which if you haven’t please see my final sentence under fear #1).  Trust me, as someone who has failed the exam 5 times in some way, shape, or form at this point, failing the exam is not as bad as everyone assumes it is.  Take time to grieve, decide if you want to continue, then if so, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, make a plan, and go again.

What if I fail so often, they kick me out?

There are two points that this fear comes into play. The first is on your third attempt if you haven’t passed either the practical or the theory by then.  The second is on your fifth attempt if you have passed either by your third attempt. If a student is worried about this prior to either of these moments please re-read the paragraph above.  Again, so what?  It’s an opportunity to remember what life was like before the MW.  It’s time to reevaluate and decide if this is something that is truly worth it.  After my 5th fail, I had decided that I needed to hang it up.  I was ready to do that.  I found other things in my life that were just as important to start working on.  After about a month, I was already missing the camaraderie of the program and (strangely enough) I was missing having something to occupy every spare minute of every day.  There was a hole in my life that could only be filled by being involved with this organization, which brings me to the following fear…

What if people think I’m crazy? Heck, I think I’m crazy!

Honestly this doesn’t matter. All that matters is that my family is supportive and I have the passion and the drive to keep going regardless of the odds and regardless of the obstacles in my path.  At some point, probably soon, I’m going to run out of money to keep going at which case I’ll probably take some additional time off and then get back at it however. Having decided that at some point in my life I will be an MW, nothing is going to stop me because I’m not afraid anymore. Well, maybe I’m afraid of one thing.

What if I take the most times to pass the exam that ANYONE has ever taken?

Honestly, I probably won’t care because I’ll still have the initials and the camaraderie of the group and I’ll have looked at the exam forwards, backwards, and sideways to the point that I breathe it and what future MW student could ask for a better mentor than that?

So here we go, attempt number 6! Bring it!