Tag Archives: Master of Wine

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…




Bordeaux 2011: Vintage Review

This past week, at the culmination of the Master of Wine seminar, the Institute of the Masters of Wine held their annual Bordeaux tasting.  This year focused on the 2011 vintage.  After the spectacular back to back successes of 2009 and 2010, 2011 brought a challenging year but also a year where the individual communes could show their classic styles.

Weather Recap
The spring started off a bit on the early side and rapidly warmed up to the second warmest April on record.  May followed suit and also was quite dry causing an early flowering.  Drought conditions early in the year can cause difficulties later in the season if enough water is not available to the vine during the time just after flowering.  This period of the year is called the “cell division and expansion phase” and allows the vine to set the number of cells that will make up the grape later in the season.  If not enough water is available during this phase the berries can remain quite small which, if water becomes available later in the season can cause splitting and exacerbate rot.  Drought conditions during this phase can also affect shoot growth and leaf development which may result in the vine being out of balance.

June of 2011 in Bordeaux was equally problematic due to a severe heat spike which resulted in early sunburn on many vineyards.  Sunburn damages the cells of the grape skins and results in reduced color and flavor formation.  Late season sunburn can also result in cooked flavors however this was not the case since July rapidly cooled and the rains returned leading some estates to worry about rot.  Additional large rainstorms in September caused many estates to pick earlier than usual further exacerbating an already difficult year.  As always, those producers willing to make the rigorous cuts in fruit selection were able to make good wines.  Here are my impressions from the various regions.


Still quite a ripe style of wines over the producers I tasted.  Not as intense as 2009 or 2010 however some black fruit is evident, more so than most of the other communes.  The tannins were characteristically gravelly over all and the mid palate was missing some of the generosity of the previous two vintages.  Overall a classic representation of the area.

St. Emillion

St. Emillion was showing its very structured, slightly blocky tannins and quite a bit more cassis and dry herb notes than the past two years, clearly reflecting the cool season post veraison.  For my tastes, I definitely preferred its neighbor Pomerol for the 2011 vintage.


Pomerol still showed the lush mid-palate weight that it is known for relative to St. Emillion however 2011 was a more classic vintage for the region than the previous two.  The minerality of the old world is back and was something I had found missing in the uber ripe previous two vintages.  The texture of tannin was chunky and the Merlot dominant blends were clearly apparent when compared to the more fine grained tannins of the Left bank.

Haut Medoc

Granitic minerality with focused cassis and dry herb characters but only modest mid-palate weight and structure.

St. Estephe

Quite lean mid palate and high, fine grained tannins.  Lots of cassis but some black cherry and wet granite as well.  These definitely need time to soften.

St. Jullien

This commune was my favorite for the vintage.  The elegance of the styles complemented the classic beauty of this vintage and the wines showed very well integrated oak balanced with beautifully textured, fine grained tannins.  These wines stood out as having the most affinity for the cool end of the season and the lovely texture of the wines reflected winemaking that embraced the vintage rather than working against it.


The most surprising of the communes I tasted since there seemed to have been little regard for what 100% new oak would taste like over the natural flavors of such a classic and restrained vintage.  In many of the producers I tasted, the oak was dominant and overpowered the more delicate fruit.  Maybe with time, this will integrate further however I am not convinced it will resolve.


A lovely showing for Margaux.  Although the perfume of the commune was not as apparent in this vintage, the tannins were powerful and refined with a velvety texture which complemented the highly concentrated mid-palate.  Of all the communes, Margaux seemed to have retained the most concentration on the palate and the ripest fruit profile showing blueberries and black cherries.  The elegant style and mineral notes still clearly said old world however, which is a welcome change from the riper styles of the previous two vintages.  These wines are evolving beautifully and should show classic complexity in the years to come.

Of course, much of the wines that were tasted are classed growths with the means to handle a challenging vintage and come out on the other side with a classically elegant wine.  This means that the widespread deliciousness of the 2009 and 2010 vintages will be restricted to those estates with the means to be very selective and I would choose from the non-classed wineries very selectively.  It’s a good year to know the history of the producers.  If they were able to make a good or great wine in 2007, it is likely that they would be able to repeat the performance from the 2011 vintage.