I’m not sure if my first encounter with Nova Cadamatre was through her wine blog or through her frequent posts on Twitter. I became quickly intrigued by both her Day Job and her after hours pursuit, both involving wine.
You may be surprised but only a handful of winemakers have reached the highest professional designations for wine professionals; the Master Sommerlier Exam or the Masters of Wine (MW). Ms. Cadamatre is a finalist for the MW (she has blogged occasionally about her pursuit to pass its notoriously difficult exams). But her day job as winemaker for the Robert Mondavi Winery is equally challenging.
Even though Mr. Mondavi passed in 2008, and his namesake winery passed rather messily into corporate ownership, the name still evokes Napa, California as the epicenter of New World winemaking. In this interview, she openly shares the challenges of living up to the reputation he and others established.
Before discussing your first year with the Robert Mondavi Winery, can you tell me a little about your past winemaker experience?
I started making wine on the East coast in Pennsylvania and then in the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York. My husband and I moved to California in 2006 after I graduated from Cornell and I’ve worked at several wineries out here prior to landing my dream job at Robert Mondavi Winery.
How familiar were you with Mr. Mondavi’s wines before you interviewed with them?
I was very familiar with the wines. I’ve always loved the style of Mr. Mondavi’s wines and it was the 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve that caused me to fall in love with the winery.
Would you say that Mr. Mondavi was a major influence or role model for you?
Mr. Mondavi was a very important role model for me. His philosophy on wine and life in general was what I saw when I looked at the wine industry. I still love his quote “Wine to me is passion. It’s family and friends. It’s warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It’s culture. It’s the essence of civilization and the art of living.” That pretty much sums up my feelings towards wine as well. I was lucky enough to meet him at the winery before he died and it was a pivotal moment for me. My deepest hope is that I can continue to help the winery team nurture the legacy that he left us.
Since the Mondavi family sold their holdings to Constellation, there might be some confusion about the nature of the winery today. Are you still working all the plots the family developed over the last fifty years? Is the winemaking personnel (other than the Mondavis, of course) still pretty intact? Are you trying to adhere to their winemaking philosophies or is it more accurate to day the “Constellation-Mondavi” has its own imprint?
Wow that was a lot of questions! Yes we are still working with the vineyards that Mr. Mondavi and his family developed including the amazing To Kalon vineyard and Wappo Hill, where Mr. and Mrs. Mondavi had their home. We still work with the same strong group of external growers for our Pinot Noir and Napa Valley programs as well. That keeps the continuity very strong and makes our winemaking jobs easier because we have such great history with all of our vineyards.
My first week on the job, I only met a handful of people who had been at the winery less than 20 years. That speaks volumes to the strong culture here at Robert Mondavi Winery. When so much of the original team is in-tact it bodes very well for continuing the winery’s legacy exactly as Mr. Mondavi would have wanted it. Since I didn’t know Mr. Mondavi personally, I’m relying on Margrit Mondavi, Genevieve Janssens, Rich Arnold, and the rest of the Mondavi team to help me understand what Mr. Mondavi would have wanted me to know regarding his vision for the future of the winery.
How much of your interview(s) with the winery do you remember? Did you feel any intimidation stepping onto such an iconic property for winemaking?
All of it and yes absolutely. I interviewed with six different people for this position and I remember every one of them. I was 7 months pregnant with my son and it was right before harvest of 2012. I remember thinking that there was no way that they would pick me for this position given the amount of winemaking talent I’m sure they spoke to about the job. I was just happy to have been considered for an interview! Once I got through the first couple of interviews I began to think I actually did have a chance and then I got very excited. It is the opportunity of a lifetime!
“Napa Valley” wines are so revered throughout the world, but I am guessing even after working just one harvest, you may have discovered some nuances about Napa that aren’t as well known. What are some aspects about Napa terroir that might surprise even wine experts?
There are so many different aspects and climates in Napa. Even though it is a fairly small area it offers so many diverse terroirs. I think the most amazing thing is the diurnal swings or the changes in temperatures from day to night. I’ve seen it swing 40-50 degrees or more on some days. It is remarkable that it can be 100 during the afternoon and cool off to 50 in the evening. The soil formation is also incredible. The history of To Kalon’s soil is truly remarkable and complex. I don’t know if anywhere else in the world can boast of the complex soil composition that Napa has.
Can you share some stories/challenges about the 2013 harvest and vintage?
2013 was an amazing year. The color is phenomenal! Much higher than anything we’ve seen in California over the past several vintages. The biggest challenge of 2013 was how quickly everything ripened. All the varieties seemed to be moving together. Verasion at To Kalon took one weekend where it normally changes over a week or so. I left the vineyard on Friday and there was very little color on the reds and came back on Monday and almost everything was through veraison! I think there was a day this harvest where we picked Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Cabernet all on one day. That is very unusual! It was a fast harvest but I think the wines will show that it was a fantastic year.
What Robert Mondavi wines were you responsible for this year, and when will we begin to see them in our market?
I work very closely with our Director of Winemaking Genevieve Janssens on all the red wines made here at Robert Mondavi Winery. We’ve worked together on blending the 2011 Cabernets and the 2012 Cabernets and Pinot Noirs. 2013 will be my first grape to bottle harvest. The 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and the 2012 Carneros Pinot Noir are already in the market so you can pick one of those up wherever our wines are sold. The 2011 Oakville Cabernet and Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve will be released next fall. The 2013’s won’t see the market until late 2015 for the Napa Valley tier and fall of 2016 for the Oakville and Reserve Cabernets.