Master of Wine: Grad pours her heart into wine industry

Nova Cadamatre; Photo by Maryann Ahmed
Published date

Nova Cadamatre’s time at SUNY Morrisville is etched in her memory. She lived on campus with a roommate before moving to a cozy attic apartment in a house off Route 20 and she appeared in musical theater productions of “Cabaret’’ and “Godspell.’’ The South Carolina transplant recalled the connection she instantly felt with her fellow horticulture classmates.

And then there was the paper on grape diseases she wrote for a plant pathology class. It was pivotal — life-changing, really — as it fueled her interest in and passion for wine and viticulture and set her on her career path.

Flash forward 20 years and Cadamatre, 40, is a rising star in the world of Finger Lakes and California wine. Her horticulture-student-self could not have predicted that; back then, she loved decorative plants and thought she might become a florist.

“That’s what I love about that program,’’ Cadamatre said. “You don’t have to know exactly what you want to do when you come into it. You can grow roses and open a greenhouse or floral shop. I did not enjoy school. I never really felt like I fit in. But I liked the community I found in horticulture. We were all plant nerds.’’

Kelly Hennigan, associate professor of horticulture at SUNY Morrisville, remembers Cadamatre well and has followed her progression in the field of wine. She recently pulled Cadamatre’s pivotal paper, “Powdery Mildew of Grapes,’’ out of her files.

“When she first came to Morrisville, I don’t think she really knew what she wanted,’’ Hennigan recalled. “She embraced everything: floral design, environmental conservation, pest management. I might have been a little surprised when she told me she was going to major in enology at Cornell.”

 “I’m very proud of Nova,’’ Hennigan added. “She’s doing very well for herself.’’

Nova and Brian Cadamatre

Indeed. Since earning an Associate in Applied Science degree in horticulture in 2003, the former Nova McCune has blazed a wide trail and cemented her name in the world of wine. She’s the first female winemaker in the U.S. to achieve the prestigious “Master of Wine’’ certification and she has been named one of Wine Enthusiast magazine’s “Top 40 Under 40’’ honorees.

Cadamatre is the co-founder of Trestle Thirty One Winery near Geneva, New York. Using grapes grown mostly on Seneca Lake (and some from Keuka Lake), she produces Riesling, the flagship wine of the Finger Lakes, along with Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and dry Rosé. These wines can be sampled at the Trestle Thirty One tasting lounge in Geneva and purchased online. 

But that’s just one part of Cadamatre’s extensive wine resume and portfolio. A self-described “bi-coastal winemaker” and a sought-after consultant, she travels to California’s Napa Valley once or twice a month to meet with clients and assist them with land evaluation, vineyard management and winemaking, among other things.

When she’s home, Cadamatre’s focus is the future Trestle Thirty One vineyard, wine production and tasting facility on 12 acres of land a few miles south of Geneva, on the east side of Seneca Lake. She and her husband, Brian, live in Bloomfield, New York, near Canandaigua, where they’re raising two sons. Brian also works in the wine industry and runs the business side of Trestle Thirty One, including business strategy and product costing.

“I’ve been working my butt off for a long time,’’ Cadamatre said with a laugh. “I’ve made a lot of wine over 20 years.’’

The wine industry has long been dominated by men, but women are making inroads and Cadamatre is thrilled to be among the growing community of women winemakers and women-helmed wineries in the Finger Lakes.

Her growth has been measured and steady. She started out as an unpaid intern at several wineries in Pennsylvania, where she was tasked with everything from cellar work to harvesting and pressing grapes. She then served as an apprentice winemaker at Stargazers Vineyard, a farm winery in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. 

In 2004, she moved to Ovid, New York, in Seneca County, to serve as an assistant winemaker at Thirsty Owl Wine Company, home of some of the oldest vinifera vines in the Finger Lakes. At the same time, she enrolled in Cornell University’s viticulture and enology bachelor’s degree program, becoming one of its first graduates. 

Graduation brought a change of scenery. Cadamatre and her husband moved to California, where she served as a winemaker at several wineries, including the esteemed Beringer, Chateau St. Jean and Chateau Souverain, and later joining  Robert Mondavi Winery, owned by Constellation Brands, where she focused on its red wine program and ultimately ended up as director of winemaking for the brand. In 2022, one of the wines she made, the 2019 Estates Cabernet Sauvignon, was named the No. 6 wine in the world by Wine Spectator.

The Cadamatre family: Nathanial, Nova, Tristan and Brian; photo by Autumn Layne Photography

The Cadamatres could have lived and worked happily ever after in Napa, but in 2015, she accepted the position of director of winemaking at Canandaigua Wine Company, which was owned by Constellation Brands at the time. Cadamatre directed a team of four winemakers, developed the 240 Days brand (made with Finger Lakes grapes) and worked on mass-market brands like Widmer and Manischewitz.

That same year, the Cadamatres founded Trestle Thirty One, with the goal of eventually having their own vineyard and production facility. They currently produce about 700 cases of four or five wines each year. For now, the wines are produced at Fox Run Winery on Seneca Lake.

Cadamatre also produces a Finger Lakes dry Riesling under the label Snowshell Vineyards for Naked Wines, an online wine subscription business. Add to that her very own West Coast brand: Fiadh Ruadh (pronounced Fay-ah Roo-ah), a Cabernet Sauvignon made with grapes grown in the Stag’s Leap district of Napa, California. The name, which means “untamed wild red deer,” is a nod to the shared Scottish heritage of her and her husband’s families.

Jon Cupp, president of Thirsty Owl Wine Company, described Cadamatre as a determined student and dedicated employee when they worked together 20 years ago. “She’s a hard worker,’’ Cupp said. “If you’re smart and you have a work ethic and you’re a good person — that’s the most important thing — the sky is the limit in this business. She’s very accomplished.’’

From college and early on, before having kids, I would ask myself, ‘do I want to buy a new pair of shoes, or do I want to plant a vineyard one day?’ That’s the thing with wine: You don’t see a return on investment immediately.

Nova Cadamatre

There’s an old joke in the industry: “How do you make a million dollars in the wine business? Start with two million.’’ Trestle Thirty One was established with a fraction of that — $20,000 from the sale of the Cadamatres’ home in California. They’re taking things one step at a time and funding their dream largely on their own through multiple entrepreneurial projects and revenue streams.

“From college and early on, before having kids, I would ask myself, ‘do I want to buy a new pair of shoes, or do I want to plant a vineyard one day?’ That’s the thing with wine: You don’t see a return on investment immediately,” she said. “As we’ve grown, we put profits back in the business.’’

Nova Cadamatre holds a bottle of Trestle Thirty One wine

Since leaving the corporate wine world in 2022, Cadamatre has been pouring her heart into Trestle Thirty One, her priority project. She looks forward to the day they can plant their own vineyard. 

“We’ve been waiting for the right time to do the full layout of what the property will look like with a vineyard, tasting room and winery,’’ she said. “We’re trying to be very slow and deliberate so we don’t have to go back and redo things.’’

A small, family-owned winery is a big departure from corporate wine, but Cadamatre is up for the challenges that come with it and excited to put down roots — literally — in the up-and-coming Finger Lakes.

“I think the Finger Lakes community is fantastic because we’re all trying to push things forward here,’’ she said. “It’s a very supportive community. Seeing how far the industry has come since my time at Thirsty Owl is amazing. There are more wineries, and the quality of wine has improved greatly.’’

The name Trestle Thirty One comes from the large railroad trestle that is prominent from the top of the vineyard on Seneca Lake.

The trestle is also the inspiration for the drawing on the front label. Tracts of land in New York State were originally arranged by number and 31 was the number of the future vineyard which Brian and Nova found on the deed once they received it.

Trestle Thirty One tasting lounge is full-bodied experience

The Trestle Thirty One tasting lounge on Exchange Street in downtown Geneva, New York, is an urban oasis away from the traffic and crowds of the Finger Lakes wine trails. Its vibe is sleek and sophisticated: The space is divided into several seating areas with sofas and chairs for small parties to enjoy unhurried tastings. Large paintings by Nova Cadamatre’s mother, artist Linda Williams McCune, decorate the dark grey walls.

Cadamatre said their target audience is people who “know wine and love wine’’ and want to gain more knowledge. “An urban tasting lounge is a very common concept on the west coast, but more unusual out here,’’ she said. “It’s a fun spot where people can hang out with friends and feel like they’re walking into a living room.’’

The tasting lounge is open from April to December. Reservations are suggested and guests should plan on being there for 90 minutes to two hours, especially if they’ll be enjoying food, too. They might even meet the winemaker. There’s also a sip and stay option upstairs: The Loft at Trestle Thirty One is available through Airbnb. It’s within walking distance of restaurants, microbreweries and Seneca Lake.

More information

Nova Cadamatre:

Trestle Thirty One Winery:

2024 Momentum cover

Read the Latest Issue of Momentum Magazine

Download the full issue for alumni news, class notes and more!