After 30 years, and since its formation in 1985, Jim Trezise is stepping down as the president of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation.
From the beginning, as Trezise wrote in a brief history of the foundation he released last year, the goal was to “centralize and coordinate programs of promotion and research in support of the New York grape, grape juice and wine industry; to provide marketing support of the products both within and beyond the state; and to foster cooperation and collaboration within the industry.”
In 1983, when Trezise was working as the president of the small New York Council, an organization of grape growers and winery owners, he got a call from Gov. Mario Cuomo, who had recognized the dire condition of the state’s grape and wine growers. At that time there 54 wineries in 14 counties. (Today there are more than 400 wineries in 59 of New York’s 62 counties.)
In the beginning, states Trezise, disagreement reigned about the focus of the foundation: should it be just on wine or just on promotion — at the expense of grape juice and jelly producers and research.
Trezise believed all elements were important and steered the foundation in that direction. Today “the industry generates a $4.8 billion economic impact for New York State. Scientific research funded by NYWGF at Cornell University has been a vital force for dramatic improvements in quality, productivity and sustainability,” states a press release announcing Trezise’s departure from the position. “A wide range of promotional programs have generated greater awareness and respect for our industry worldwide, including wine trails, highway signage, wine competitions, international export promotion and a public relations campaign in New York City. To cap it off, in 2014 Wine Enthusiast magazine named New York ‘Wine Region of the Year.’”
During his tenure, Trezise and the foundation have often been criticized for its focus on the Finger Lakes, where the foundation has its office, and Finger Lakes wine. After the New York Wine & Food Classic, a wine competition put on every year by the foundation, the foundation often finds itself on the defense for the number of Finger Lakes wines that received gold medals.
Louise Hargrave, who with her former husband, Alex, planted the first wine grapes on Long Island, has gone on the record criticizing the foundation’s focus.
I view the foundation as a piece of the puzzle, the quarterback of a football team and the head cheerleader. It’s been a real team effort, and a real fun ride.
“There’s nothing about the wines of the Fingers Lakes that’s like Long Island wines, and yet we’re grouped together,” says Hargrave. “It is political, but it’s worthy of discussion. It has a place. There are a lot of people doing promotion focusing on the Finger Lakes, and it’s just because of certain people, and it’s statewide funding. It’s a sticking point because it does hinder what we can do and how we can market ourselves.”
Trent Preszler, the current chairman of the foundation’s board said the search will look at candidates from all regions. “It’s definitely going to be a new era for our industry,” he says, “and we have a great opportunity to build on Jim’s success.”
In his history of NYW&GF, Trezise summed up his job and the foundation’s mission: Diversity is our strength. Unity is our power.
“That has been my sermon to the industry for more than 30 years. The diversity of regions, grape varieties, people, philosophies, winery architecture, product lines and much else ensures ours is an interesting, exciting, dynamic industry — just like New York City is so exciting because of its incredible diversity,” he writes. “But when we set out to achieve something major as an industry, the only way to do it is through a unity. In that sense, I view the foundation as a piece of the puzzle, the quarterback of a football team and the head cheerleader. It’s been a real team effort, and a real fun ride.”
If that sounds up your alley, e-mail a cover letter, résumé, at least two references and salary history to the attention of Trent Preszler no later than February 15 to firstname.lastname@example.org. Materials may also be mailed to the attention of Susan Spence, New York Wine & Grape Foundation, 800 South Main Street, Canandaigua, NY 14424. Telephone: 585.394.3620. Find the job description here.