Farm was no stepping stone for this immigrant

09/27/2013 6:59 AM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Bedell Cellars’ assistant winemaker, Seferino Cotzojay, crouches on top of the grape crusher as Raven Blake of Greenport stomps down the grapes to make room for more.

While many immigrants to the U.S. look at agricultural work as a stepping stone into other industries, 28-year-old Seferino Cotzojay of Mattituck has achieved big things by staying put in farming.

“I’m sure you’ve heard this,” Mr. Cotzojay said on a recent afternoon, while harvesting grapes at Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue. “Opportunities are here in America.”

Opportunities certainly presented themselves to Mr. Cotzojay, who worked his way up to become assistant winemaker at Bedell.

“This is my passion, wine making is my passion,” he said.

Special Report: Immigration and agriculture on the North Fork

He began working in the fields of his native Guatemala at 6 years old, after being forced to quit school, which had become too expensive for his family, he said.

He traveled to the U.S. at age 15 in hopes of getting an education. And his first learning experience in this country came in the form of culture shock.

“When I first came to the U.S., I was struck by the language barrier, learning English, the culture differences,” Mr. Cotzojay recalled. “It was hard to get used to.”

He began attending school in Phoenix, Ariz., where he focused on learning English. His next move was to the fields of Long Island, where he began working alongside winemakers at Bedell.

Between harvesting and cleaning tanks and equipment, he said, he paid close attention to how the winemakers described different wines.

“Not a single vintage is exactly the same, but somehow I became familiar,” he said. “I was able to understand and to communicate on a daily basis, and that helped me a lot to be able to learn and read books about winemaking.”

Over time, his knowledge base grew, as did his fluency in English. By 2011 he had earned his current position as assistant winemaker.

When asked if America is a place where dreams can come true, he replied, “It’s a matter of pursuing and making the dream become a reality – it could be anywhere in the world.”

Mr. Cotzojay currently has a green card and is working on gaining citizenship, he said, so he can continue working at the very farm where his passion was grown.

cmiller@timesreview.com