Friday, December 16, 2016

Wine & Grape Foundation head shares parting thoughts

Jim  Trezise always has something up his sleeve.
• When an organization is more than 30 years old and has had only one president during that period, it is only natural to wonder what direction it will take under new top leadership. That is the case with the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, created in 1985 with Jim Trezise as its head. He will step away from that post on January 1, although playing a role in helping his successor Sam Filler ease into the job at the organization's offices in Canandaigua. Trezise shared his parting thoughts in what he calls the "transition edition" of his weekly newsletter The Wine Press, and addressed a few questions he has received since announcing the impending change about a year ago.

Sam Filler
By Jim Trezise

On January 1, 2017, some positive changes will occur in the grape and wine industry, both in New York State and nationally.

Sam Filler will officially become executive director of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, and I will become president of WineAmerica, the national organization of American wineries based in Washington, DC. Both changes have been long-planned and thoroughly discussed to ensure a smooth transition.

As Governor Andrew Cuomo noted at the most recent [wine, beer and spirits] Summit, his father, the late former Governor Mario Cuomo and I created the Foundation in 1985 during a time of economic crisis in the New York grape and wine industry. So, I feel it's sort of like my 31-year-old child, and I want to see it continue to grow another 31 years.

When I notified the Foundation Board of Directors more than a year ago of my desire to find a successor so it could continue well into the future, we conducted a formal search which resulted in Sam's selection. However, I also want to finish up some special projects, and to make sure Sam is well oriented, so I will remain president until March 31 and spend the first three months of the year helping get him up to speed. I'll also continue writing The Wine Press for a couple more months.

I am fully confident that Sam will do a great job and take the Foundation to the next level. We currently have a great board, a fabulous staff, financial stability, and widespread respect which, in combination, set the stage for a bright future.

For the past four years, Sam has been director of industry development for the craft beverage sector within Empire State Development. In that capacity, he has come to know the industries well in terms of structure, marketing, laws and regulations, and also has managed $3 million in grants for promoting New York craft beverages. He also is a participant in the superb LEAD NY program which grooms future leaders in agriculture.

WineAmerica is a vital organization for American wineries, especially at a time of major transition in Washington. It coordinates grassroots public policy advocacy to protect and enhance the business climate for wine. Excise tax reform, immigration reform, music licensing, trade policy, research funding, and export promotion are just a sampling of the many issues affecting wineries.

With a totally new administration taking office in January, and the many uncertainties that brings, WineAmerica's role is more important than ever. I've served on the executive committee of its board of directors for more than 20 years, and have worked closely with staff members Tara Good (director of operations) and Michael Kaiser (director of public affairs). As its president, I look forward to assisting their excellent efforts to build WineAmerica and its ability to represent the American wine industry. WineAmerica also has retained an excellent government affairs firm, Meyers & Associates, to make our case with the new administration and Congress.

I also will continue running the International Riesling Foundation, judging in major wine competitions, and remaining engaged in the wine industry in other ways -- all from my home on Keuka Lake, with travel as necessary to fulfill those functions.

Over the past year, many friends have congratulated me on my "retirement," which I genuinely appreciate. However, the "R" word is just not part of my vocabulary, but the "T" word -- transition -- is. In fact, I'll probably be busier than ever, fortunately with all of my activity still in the wine industry which I love. And I'll never stop promoting New York wines.

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