By Paul Vigna
Nova Cadamatre is director of winemaking for Constellation’s Canandaigua Winery, developing the 240 Days wines from the Finger Lakes. She and her husband, Brian, also have their own brand called Trestle Thirty-One, where she runs the winemaking, vineyard sourcing, and marketing.
The first female winemaker in the United States to achieve the title of Master of Wine, she’s also a relative newcomer to the industry, enrolling in Cornell’s newly introduced Viticulture and Enology undergraduate program in the fall of 2004. But new is a relative term when it comes to Eastern wine, which began its rapid profile ascent as Cadamatre completed her studied and went to work at Thirsty Owl Wine Co. along Cayuga Lake. Not only were the New York and Virginia industries flourishing, but states such as Pennsylvania, Maryland and Ohio started to see an uptick in winery openings and the start of a steady rise in quality.
That leaves Cadamatre as an ideal contributor to the panel discussion entitled “In Pursuit of Excellence: Trade, Media and Producers Weigh In,” which will begin the third annual USBevX Conference and Trade Show on Feb. 21-22 at Washington Marriott Wardman Park in Washington D.C.
“There are a much larger number of wineries than there were when I came to Cornell,” she said. “Also, there seems to be a greater push for quality wines now by many of the wineries, both long established and new. Particularly for the Finger Lakes, there is a greater global awareness of what we grow and the quality of our wines over the past 5-8 years that definitely didn’t exist 10 years ago.”
BevStrat.com owner and founder Brian Rosen will represent the trade and Wine Enthusiast contributing editor Anna Lee C. Iijima will give her impressions from a media perspective for a dynamite panel that will be led by Dr. Damien Wilson, Hamel Family Chair of the Wine Business Institute at Sonoma State University in California.
Wilson said the panel will kick around several themes, including production values and the quality of winemaking, the relationship of production and distribution, and developing strategies to develop a niche and gain the kind of recognition that reaps attention and sales.
They certainly have examples to cite of Eastern wine regions, from the Finger Lakes to Long Island to the Virginia “Wine Belt,” that have raised the bar in a comparatively short period of time. Awards to wineries in those regions, and elsewhere across the East, have become more numerous over the past five years, partly because of quantity and more so because of an elevation in quality.
“From Riesling and Cabernet Franc in the Finger Lakes to Viognier in Virginia,” Cadamatre said of the changes she has seen over the past 10 years. “There are examples of wines which are finally able to stand on a global stage with the same varieties from well-established regions. This is still moving forward and has a long way to go, but the tide has turned in the right direction.”
It’s not only quality that creates recognition, however, as Wilson noted in a phone conversation. For the thousands of wineries that exist nationally, he said, only a handful could be considered large. The rest are a mix of smaller producers who might make the best wine in the world, but realize that without a distribution plan and a strategy to gain recognition, few customers will be knocking down their door to buy their product.
There are examples Wilson cited beyond California, of course, that provide the kind of template that the Eastern industry could follow; one is Marlborough, which is today New Zealand’s largest wine region. In the early 1990s it was growing an unfashionable grape variety called, yes, Sauvignon Blanc. But innovative producers such as Jackson Estate and Cloudy Bay recognized the appeal of creating a market-friendly new wine style. Next came awards and recognition and more commitment toward that grape and style.
“Consequently, as time passed, and the flavor profile crystalized, market trends began to favor the grape variety,” Wilson said. “By the early 21st century, Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough emerged as a global benchmark wine style.”
A similar metamorphosis took place in Provence, where the rosé produced there has dramatically raised its profile since 2006. “The lessons coming through from these cases are that a region can be successful through either pioneering a style or leveraging the existing reputation and adapting as markets change,” Wilson said.
That the Eastern wine industry has come this far is providing the foundation for the next step, which is the foundation for what should be a vigorous panel discussion. Cadamatre said she thinks it might take less time to break into the overseas market than in domestic markets dominated by West Coast wines. “Our wines are more stylistically like those of the Old World than the New [World]; very much like South Africa in that respect,” she said.
“Also, until we have producers with good quality large volume products to be distributed at a wide scale, it will probably be challenging to gain acceptance for the higher-end wines of the Eastern regions,” she added. “For that to happen, there needs to be more vines in the ground; however, that is a risk for the growers. It will happen eventually, but it will be interesting to watch who takes that step.”
Learn more about the U.S. Wine and Beverage Expo, Feb. 21-22 in Washington, D.C