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4 New Masters of Wine Share the Lessons They Learned

North America’s newest MWs discuss insights and rewards that go beyond the certification

Olga Karapanou Crawford, MW, Lindsay Pomeroy, MW, Nicolas Quillé, MW, and Elsa Macdonald, MW.
From left to right: Olga Karapanou Crawford, MW, Lindsay Pomeroy, MW, Nicolas Quillé, MW, and Elsa Macdonald, MW.

When the Institute of Masters of Wine introduced its 10 new MWs last week, four from North America were among them—Olga Karapanou Crawford, Lindsay Pomeroy, and Nicolas Quillé in the U.S., and Elsa Macdonald, who is based in Canada. SevenFifty Daily spoke with these new MWs to find out more about the work they do, the lessons they learned while pursuing the prestigious certification, and how they celebrated after getting the news of their hard-won achievement.

Olga Karapanou Crawford, MW

Olga Karapanou Crawford, who is based in Napa, California, is only the third Greek national to earn an MW—she’s also the first Greek winemaker ever to earn the title, according to the institute. In addition to being the head winemaker for Penrose Hill, a modern négociant with offices in New York City, Karapanou Crawford also consults for her family’s wineries—Achaia Clauss and Antonopoulos Vineyards—in Greece.

What’s the most important lesson you learned while pursuing the MW?

There are so many! Open-mindedness, dedication, collaboration, and humility, which is required to understand your strengths and weaknesses. It gives you a better understanding of yourself and pushes your limits in a way that you would never think possible.

How did you celebrate?

After I received the call, we started celebrating with a 2002 Cristal, followed by a 2002 Bollinger R.D.

How long did it take you to pass?

It was a process—I passed the theory portion on the second try, the practical portion on the fourth, and the research paper on the first.

Who were your mentors?

Tim Hanni, MW, and Nicholas Paris, MW; for the research paper, Mary Margaret McCamic, MW, and Sheri Sauter Morano, MW.

Lindsay Pomeroy, MW

For the last 12 years, Lindsay Pomeroy has been teaching Wine & Spirit Education Trust and French Wine Scholar certification courses through her San Diego–based wine education company, Wine Smarties. “When I started back in 2006,” says Pomeroy, “no one had heard of [wine certifications], so it has been really rewarding to build a community of students who are now doing amazing things like owning their own restaurants and their own wine bars. One [of my students] even recently started her own distributor company.”

What’s the most important lesson you learned while pursuing the MW?

How to flow through life. When I first started the MW, the attachment to passing was high. But I soon realized that the ego, the ego-driven part of it, can only get you so far. Still, not being immediately successful was hard. I had to fall down a lot. And cry. It’s heartbreaking. The process is really difficult. You give thousands of hours, and when you don’t get the result, you wonder, What is the point? I’ve given my life, my relationships, my money … So not being successful—that was really hard for me to shake. Then I said to myself, “Hey listen, this is not what life’s about. Life is not just about becoming a master of wine, you psycho.” Opening up, and seeing, and learning how to incorporate that as part of my life was a big thing for me.

How did you celebrate?

First, with a pool party. There has also been talk of “a karaoke encounter.”

What did you drink?

Whatever presented itself. I was hoping for some really good Champagne, or a single-vineyard Austrian or German Riesling, a vintage port, or some really good Northern Rhône Syrah. I like many different wines, so it’s hard to say I only want to drink this.

How long did it take you to pass?

Five years.

Who were your mentors?

Amy Christine, MW—she single-handedly got me to pass that theory portion. For the second attempt at the research paper, it was Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW.

Nicolas Quillé, MW

As the chief winemaking and operations officer for Crimson Wine Group, Nicolas Quillé oversees nine wineries in California, Oregon, and Washington State, as well as all their associated vineyards, and he’s responsible for ensuring the quality of all Crimson’s wines. Part of that job involves travel, which is how he spent the night before the official announcement—that and watching the clock.

“I knew that if I passed, the call would come between 9 and 10 pm,” says Quillé. “And I looked at my watch every 30 seconds between 9 and 10 pm.” His call finally came at 10:15. Quillé, who was born in France and is now based in Portland, Oregon, holds a master’s in enology from the University of Dijon in Burgundy, a postgraduate degree in the management of wineries that produce sparkling wines from the University of Reims in Champagne, and an MBA from the University of Washington in Seattle.

What’s the most important lesson you learned while pursuing the MW?

That I know nothing. There is always one person somewhere who knows more than me on any topic. And it’s really frustrating when you’re trying to be the master of something. I really learned my limitations.

How did you celebrate?

Because I was traveling when the announcement came in, I haven’t yet, but I plan to celebrate with a special dinner with my wife and friends.

What will you drink?

Definitely bubbles and probably Champagne. Probably an excellent dry Riesling, a Burgundy, and a madeira. Beyond that, anything that anyone else wants to bring.

How long did it take you to pass?

Six years, but five and a half years of good studying.

Who were your mentors?

The first year: Adam Lapierre, MW; then Bob Betz, MW, from Washington State. For the research paper: David Bird, MW.

Elsa Macdonald, MW

Canada’s sixth MW, Elsa Macdonald, who is based in Toronto, is the director of wine education for Arterra Wines Canada, which operates eight wineries and more than 1,700 acres of premium Canadian vineyards. “We have sales people across the country,” Macdonald says, “plus we have a lot of very large accounts, so I’m responsible for all of them being able to sell, or work with, or interpret their wines by what’s in the glass.”

What’s the most important lesson you learned while pursuing the MW?

To listen. Learn to listen when someone gives you feedback. The answer is always in the glass. Listen to what the wine is saying to you, and stop trying to make it into something that you think it is just because you got a whiff of something. Jumping to those conclusions without fully listening to the whole story that the wine is telling you kills you in tastings.

How did you celebrate?

Earlier in the week, I sent an email out to some of  my “wine peeps” just to say that I’m going to find out [the MW results] on Friday morning, and I didn’t know if I was going to be ecstatic or if I was going to be miserable, but I was going to need a drink either way, so I invited them to come and meet me.

Friends dropped in and out, and it was a lovely evening. We had five or six bottles of Champagne, and some of the Arterra winemakers from Niagara showed up and brought their own wines. There was also one bottle, a 2002 Billecart-Salmon, that I wanted to drink that night because my mom, her best friend, my sister, and I visited the winery together in 2006. We did drink some rosé while there, but that particular Champagne house has meant something special to me ever since—because we lost my mom just two years later. When I got the opportunity to purchase a bottle of the 2002 vintage in 2017 I grabbed it, knowing that someday I’d have an important reason to open it.

How long did it take you to pass?

Seven years.

Who were your mentors?

Christy Canterbury, MW; for the research paper: Sheri Sauter Morano, MW.

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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