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FAIL: The Word Everyone Hates to See on MW Exam Results

As you probably assumed from the title of this post, I have once again failed the MW exam.  This was my second attempt and the IMW follows the rules of baseball in the three strikes, you’re out philosophy.  I have one more try before I’m benched. I decided to blog about this failure while it was still fresh this year rather than waiting for January to work up the courage to disclose it as I did last year.  I’ve read all the posts from successful canidates and congrats to them, they deserve it!  However, I decided that the one voice that was missing was the voice from the multiple people who received FAIL on their letters yesterday(Yes it does come capitalized and in bold so you can visualize the examiners yelling at you through the magic of technology).  This is me, stripping myself bare, as a last effort to try and understand what I’m doing wrong.

As far as the exam itself goes there are 4 theory papers and three practical (or tasting) papers.  The breakdown of my grades is below…

Theory                                                               Grades

Paper 1- The Production of Wine – Part 1             C-

Paper 2- The Production of Wine – Part 2             B (passing)

Paper 3- The Business of Wine                           C-

Paper 4- Contemporary Issues                            C+

Practical                                                             Grades

Paper 1 – White Wines                                          C-

Paper 2 – Red Wines                                              D

Paper 3 – Mixed Bag                                              D

I hope you, my readers, can appreciate how difficult this is for me to acknowledge let alone to post for the entire world to see.  After putting 5 years of my life towards this goal I have hit a roadblock that I, thus far, am unable to fight.   Of all the grades above the one that grates the most is the C- on Theory paper 1.  I am a winemaker however my life in the industry started and my true love continues to be the vines and the wine that I and others make from them.  My degree from Cornell is in viticulture. Winemaking has primarily been learned on the job.  Theory Paper 1 is viticulture and winemaking through the end of Malolactic fermentation. I know it is not the examiners goal to imply that I don’t know enough about how a vineyard manager thinks or fermentation runs to pass this paper but this one still stings the most of all the papers.  I answered the following questions…

Q1 : What are the vineyard factors that influence the choice of rootstocks?

Q5: What are the options available for the control of acidity in musts and wines from selection the date of harvest to the end of the Malolactic conversion?

Q6: Explain recent changes in the uses ofSulphur(note this is the English spelling) and Sulphur Dioxide in the vineyard and cellar prior to the completion of the malolactic conversion.

Rootstocks were an entire section during Viti 1 at Cornell during which my esteemed professor Peter Cousins (a rootstock breeder with the USDA) did his best to get us all excited about rootstocks.  At the time, I thought it was something that I could always look up when I needed them but those notes were absolutely dusted off and re-visited prior to both attempts at the exam.  I also became very interested in other rootstocks beyond my personal favorite of 3309 which as I learned through visits to France is also popular with other winemakers in Europe as well.  You can imagine my dismay when that particular question only merited a D during the exam.  The acid question also threw me with a C- but I won’t go in to the numerous ways and processes that can be used to adjust acid that I only use 4-5 times a day.

So my assumption after my first attempt at the exam was that I was not being downgraded by my lack of knowledge on the subjects but the style of writing with which I have been delivering said knowledge. This past year I refined my writing style, again wrote an endless number of essays from questions cut from the 1999-2009 exams (which perhaps one day I’ll use as blog posts as I can’t think of anything else they would be useful for), and even went so far as to dissect body paragraphs of each of my passing essay assignments with highlighters ( Pink for intro sentence, orange for supporting sentences, green for global examples, blue for closing sentence and so on) hoping to find some sort of structure pattern that I could rely on for a passing grade.  As the grades above show, not only did I not pass but I actually did worse than I did the first time around.  C+ to a C- is not a long way to fall but it’s enough to seriously consider if I’m going about this in the proper way.

So readers I’m stumped.  This is me throwing up my hands and asking “What do you want from me???”  I have 9 months before my last attempt next June (but who’s counting).  I’m asking for any possible suggestions for a direction for the next 9 months that may help.  Feel free to leave a comment if you have a suggestion for study or writing techniques otherwise I have nothing to change and we all know what the definition of insanity is…

13 Responses

  1. Ah Nova my dear, you are a very courageous lady for sharing this with the world. If I can help at all, re essays, feel free to send me them over the next year or if I can send you any of mine, I’m happy too.

    Stick in there, it’s a prize worth having (albeit a rather expensive one)

    Best wishes,


    1. Thanks Rebecca!
      Be careful! Anyone who has offered to grade an essay has been sent one. I will absolutely take you up on it.


  2. Nova, all I can say is that 1) I appreciate you posting your successes and failures, important lessons we all live privately with but are important to share publicly every now and again. And 2) I’m doing a fair amount of research on rootstocks for our own replant as well as a research paper for a wine industry journal publication and you’re welcome to whatever I learn once I’ve written it or the notes that lead up to it.

    Until then, you’re also welcome to quiz The Farmer on all that he knows and perhaps you may consider doing what he does?…taking, repeating, rinsing, through all the the Vit classes as the NVC every semester year in. Year out. He’s there now. Wednesdays 1-4 p.m. Steve Krebs class.

  3. Thanks, Nova for being real and sharing the frustrations that so many have in our pursuits to learn not only the facts, but “how to take a wine test”. You know this stuff, Heck, you pretty much taught the WSET even though you were supposed to be a student in the class …. Keep your dukes up, you will win the next round.

  4. Nova,
    I am so sorry to hear about this – you were so close to passing theory! I know first hand how it is. I was terribly sick this year and could not sit. Next June will also be my 3rd try. Have you tried showing your pracitice essays to several MWS and an English professor? I discovered that one major problem was style – I was writing too entertaining and journalistic. Despite having a good structure and lots of examples – my style was not serious and objective enough. Would you like to participate in an essay group online with a small number of students and share 2 essays weekly beginning in November?

    1. Julia,
      I’d love to participate in the online essay group! I’m also looking into taking another college level English course focusing on critical thinking and composition as a refresher course. I’m excellent at scientific writing but I may have the opposite problem from you as my essays may be too dry and serious. Let me know more about the group!

  5. Nova – this is an incredible post – shoot me an email with your phone # – let’s talk this week – this thing is not out of reach for you – I have ideas. Amy

  6. Ran into your website through WB. Had never seen the site so I dropped in and looked around.

    So very impressed that you posted this blog about the MW exam. I’m a Diploma student in Vancouver, BC, and a posting like this is so interesting and informative for someone at my level. Took a lot of guts to post about a failure, no matter the type.

    Best of luck on your next try.

    1. Sydney,
      Thanks so much! I hope you’ll check back from time to time and feel free to let me know if you have any topics you’d like me to delve into on the blog!


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About Nova Cadamatre

Nova Cadamatre has become one of the most versatile and experienced winemakers in the industry. She holds a Bachelors from Cornell University in Viticulture.  In 2017 she achieved the title of Master of Wine and was the first female winemaker in the US to do so. 

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