Wine

3 New Masters of Wine on How They Did It

Or how to succeed in wine by really, really trying

Billo Naravane MW, Nova Cadamatre MW, and Ashley Hausman Vaughters MW
(From left to right) Billo Naravane MW, Nova Cadamatre MW, and Ashley Hausman Vaughters MW.

On Labor Day, the Institute of Masters of Wine announced 14 new Masters of Wine (MW) from five countries, bringing the total to 369 MWs in 29 countries. SevenFifty Daily caught up with three of the new inductees—Nova Cadamatre, Ashley Hausman Vaughters, and Billo Naravane—to talk about how they studied, what they wish they had known, and how they celebrated.  

Nova Cadamatre MW

On Monday, Nova Cadamatre became the first female winemaker in the United States to earn the MW title. As the director of winemaking for Canandaigua Winery in New York’s Finger Lakes, she makes a Riesling, a dry rosé, and a Cabernet Franc under the winery’s 240 Days label, and is also the owner of Trestle Thirty-One, a boutique winery dedicated to age-worthy dry Rieslings.

After becoming one of the first graduates of Cornell’s Viticulture and Enology program, in 2006, she headed to California, where she worked in a number of positions for such wineries as Beringer, Chateau St. Jean, Chateau Souverain, and most recently, Robert Mondavi. In 2014 she landed on Wine Enthusiast’s Top 40 Under 40 Wine Tastemakers list, and today, when she’s not making wine, she blogs about wine and winemaking.

Those two little initials aren’t changing the trajectory of Cadamatre’s career. She admits that she wasn’t really looking for career advancement when she began the MW program in 2009. Still, getting to MW took grit on Cadamatre’s part: She passed theory in 2012 but couldn’t nail the practical exam despite multiple tries. In total, she attempted the exam six times. After taking a break from the program for a year, she returned in 2016 and passed both theory and the practical exam. She says she was overjoyed to pass the research paper section of the exam on her first try.

What’s the one thing you wish you’d known going into the program? Obviously, how to pass the exam.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give an MW candidate now? To read my blog on what every MW student is afraid of. (Hint: It’s self-doubt and failure.) Don’t get discouraged and feel like you’re a fraud, because everybody’s felt like that at some point in the program.

How did you celebrate? Immediately upon getting the call, with a 2005 Bollinger La Grande Année, and it was delicious. The following day, with a 2009 Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru, an amazing 2003 German Riesling, and a vintage ’02 Champagne.

Ashley Hausman Vaughters MW

Vaughters entered the wine industry when she was looking for a bottle to drown her sorrows over terrible job prospects in 2008 while she was studying for her master’s in English and American literature at New York University. She moved to Denver in 2009 to manage Little’s Fine Wine & Spirits; in 2013, she took a position in import distribution for Old World Wine Imports, which she still represents. Today she also has her own business, Mistral Wine Company, through which she offers a variety of services, including consulting, cellar guidance, and education. Additionally, she teaches wine classes through the Wine Education Institute in Denver.

“At the very beginning, the Master of Wine was a lofty goal,” says Vaughters. “I’ve always liked to have an ‘impossible goal’ that I’m trying to achieve—whether it was a marathon or the Master of Wine. I’ve completed both, and it’s one of those things where you can really shock yourself.”

What was the hardest thing about the MW? Being able to get over my own insecurities, or lack of feeling that I belonged there. That was a hard obstacle for me. And then, recognizing that it was so much bigger than I thought it would be, going into the program. Thankfully, I realized that after the first course week—I saw that I had to be dedicated and organized, and I had to give up a lot of hobbies. But I don’t resent it at all.

What’s the one thing you wish you’d known going into the program? I wish I’d known how seriously you need to take not just the work-study balance but also the work-family-study balance. There’s a certain truth to the idea that if you throw yourself completely into it maybe you can get through faster, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily the best way. It’s a very, very intense program, and you might be in it for a lot longer than just a few years.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give a candidate now? Don’t underestimate the importance of balancing your life. Figure out how to take a break. You have to stop. You have to get off the train once in a while. You have to be able to give back to people who are supporting you.

How did you celebrate? With a 1991 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Blanco (that’s my favorite wine), a 2004 Rayas, a 1985 Léoville Las Cases, and a 1991 Grange.

Billo Naravane MW

On any given day, 200 tiny bottles could be found cluttering Billo Naravane’s dining room table. But that’s part of what it took to get him from the guy who entered the Masters of Wine in 2009 not really knowing what he’d gotten himself into, to the guy who just earned the MW.  

Naravane, who studied mathematics and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before earning an MS degree in electrical engineering from Stanford in 1993, fell in love with wine while living in Austin, Texas. In 2006 he quit his tech career—he’d worked for Oracle, Netscape, and Hewlett-Packard—to enter the Viticulture and Enology program at the University of California at Davis. He earned a master’s in 2008 and launched his Walla Walla, Washington, winery, Rasa Vineyards, along the way. Today, in addition to his duties at Rasa, he provides consulting winemaking and viticulture services for a handful of clients in Washington and is an adjunct professor at Washington State University.

Naravane says he hasn’t written a line of code in approximately 10 years, but that’s not entirely true. Studying in a vacuum of sorts—surrounded by wine and wine lovers but without any other MW candidates nearby to share bottle costs and tastings—required creativity. He ordered hundreds of 50-milliliter vials from ETS labs and proceeded to fill 10 vials with every wine he opened. He wrote a four-digit code on each vial and entered the code into a massive spreadsheet that told him what the wines were. Then, over the course of the next couple of weeks, Naravane’s wife would randomly choose vials for him to taste blind, which allowed him both to taste new wines and to retaste wines he’d originally missed.

It worked. Last year he passed what he considered the hardest part of the ordeal, the practical exam—three 12-wine blind tastings conducted over 2.25 hours each, followed by a critical paper that assessed each for variety, origin, winemaking, quality, style, commercial appeal, and other criteria.

What was the hardest thing about the MW? The tasting. I tend to be really good on domestic wines—I lived in California, and I’m good on Washington and Oregon—but really discerning the difference between McLaren Vale Shiraz and Barossa—well, that’s where you’ve got to be to pass the exam. It’s not just your local neighborhood, so to speak. It’s a global exam.

What’s the one thing you wish you’d known going into the program? It’s a program that will push you to the limits—and that’s by design. You should not kid yourself about how difficult the program is to get through. It is extremely difficult. As a friend said, there’s no way you’re going to accidentally pass this exam. It’s so labor intensive, and tests every aspect of the wine industry.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give a candidate now? To go through the WSET program first, which has four levels, ending up in a diploma—it introduces you to a structured way of tasting and looking at things, and introduces you to all the regions. In hindsight, I wish I’d done that.

What did you drink to celebrate? I actually thought I was going to find out on Monday, but I got the call about 10 pm on Sunday. We celebrated with the first wine I made, the 2007 QED and a 1955 Taylor port. And tonight, at a seven-course meal at the Fat Duck Inn, I’ll be drinking a 1990 Dom Perignon Magnum, 1994 Joseph Phelps Insignia Magnum, a 2000 Bryant Family Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, 1998 Clos Erasmus Priorat, 1990 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle, 1990 Chapoutier Ermitage Le Pavillon Rouge, 1986 Ducru Beaucaillou, 1999 Penfolds Grange, and 1988 Chateau d’Yquem. There will be other wines as well, but these will get the party started.

When she’s not writing about beverage, travel, or weird science, Julie H. Case can be found deep in America’s forests, foraging for mushrooms.

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