09/27/13 6:59am
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

01/21/13 3:23pm
01/21/2013 3:23 PM

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | Inauguration Day partiers at Bedell Cellars, which provided wine for the inaugural luncheon in Washington, D.C.

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | Inauguration Day partiers at Bedell Cellars, which provided wine for the inaugural luncheon in Washington, D.C.

As North Fork wine was being poured during Monday’s inaugural luncheon on the occasion of the country’s first African-American president taking his second oath of office, this time on Martin Luther King Day, the Cutchogue winery that produced that vintage was holding a celebration of its own.

Among the first to arrive at Bedell Cellars, whose 2009 merlot was served in D.C., was East Marion resident Sarah Malone. As an African-American who remembers the racial strife of the civil rights movement, the day was an especially poignant reminder of the history made four years ago.

“It’s for real now,” Ms. Malone said, “The first election was special, but this one is even better.”

She said the president gave a “fabulous” inaugural address. “He made reference to everything, that he knows he is being sworn in there because of Martin Luther King Jr’s foot soldiers,” she said. “I’ve been sitting at home watching this all unfold, even the election. But this, to be out with people, makes me feel like I’m there.”

Ms. Malone was one of the many at Bedell Cellars watching the inaugural celebration on the tasting room’s television, sipping wine while members of the United States Supreme Court and Congress also enjoyed a North Fork wine at the inaugural luncheon.

Bedell’s winemaker, Richard Olsen-Harbich, thanked Senator Charles Schumer for adding their wine to the menu. He also acknowledged those who also had their hand in the wine’s creation.

“Kelly Urbanik, Kip Bedell and Seferino Cotzojay started this wine and made the initial decisions about how it was going to be fermented and some of the blending requirements,” Mr. Olsen-Harbich said. “When I came here in 2010, the first thing I did was bottle the 2008 wines, so this wine was in barrels at the time. Drew Sepielli, one of our interns and cellar master in 2011, worked with me from summer of 2010 till last year and also spent a lot of time taking care of this wine, so it was truly a team effort.”

He said the choice of Bedell’s wine at the luncheon speaks well for the entire region.

“This achievement gives our region a seat at the table with the best in the country and I think we deserve it,” he said. “I’ve been doing this a long time and seeing this happen after so long is just incredible.”

01/10/13 5:00pm
01/10/2013 5:00 PM

Here’s something to warm you up for the winter: The North Fork of Long Island now has something in common with Rioja, Spain and Danube, Austria. All three regions were included in Wine Enthusiast’s recent list of the Top 10 Wine Destinations in the World for 2013.

The news comes three months after travel company TripAdvisor named Long Island one of the top five wine destinations in the country.

“You couldn’t ask for more positive news starting off 2013 than being named one of the world’s top ten wine destinations,” said Ron Goerler, president of the Long Island Wine Council and owner of Jamesport Vineyards. “It’s a shot in the arm this area needs right now … after Sandy, things got very quiet out here.”

But Mr. Goerler said with the approaching Winterfest, the North Fork’s annual jazz and wine festival, things will quickly heat up in North Fork wine region.

“As president of the Long Island Wine Council, I couldn’t be more excited for 2013,” he said.

Founding winemaker Kip Bedell of Bedell Cellars in Southold, was singing the same tune. As someone who has been making wine in the region for more than three decades, he said he “felt all along that this region has a potential to make world class wines, though like any region, we had a lot to learn and much has changed and will change in the vineyards in order to reach that potential.”

See the complete list of wine destinations by clicking here.