SACRAMENTO — A leading advocate for the wine industry in New York — and now the nation — has received a prestigious honor recognizing his contributions.
Jim Trezise of Penn Yan, the long-time president of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation and now president of a national advocacy group called Wine America, has been honored with the fourth annual Rich Smith Distinguished Service Award for major contributions to the American grape and wine industry.
Trezise received the award earlier this month during the annual Leadership Luncheon of the Winegrape Growers of America at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, the industry’s largest conference and trade show. WGA co-sponsors the award with the National Grape Research Alliance and WineAmerica.
The late Rich Smith was a founding member and guiding force in each of the three groups, according to the sponsoring organizations.
Smith and his wife, Claudia Alexander Smith, owned Paraiso Vineyards and Smith Family Wines in California’s Santa Lucia Highlands AVA.
He was known for his passion for the wine and grape industry, his commitment to its future, and his collaboration with colleagues to achieve collective goals. The award presenters noted that “passion, commitment, collaboration” are inscribed on the award.
Claudia presented it to Trezise.
“Rich and I spent many a day with Jim while he was at the New York Wine & Grape Foundation,” she said. “He was an impressively articulate, sensitive and thorough advocate for the Foundation and for American wine production, consumption, politics and marketing, through representation and participation in each of these three groups. He has been in tandem with Rich through many years of wine/grape promotion and politics and is very deserving of this Rich Smith Award.”
Trezise expressed appreciation for the honor.
“Receiving the Rich Smith Award was a huge surprise and a great honor,” he said in a statement to the Finger Lakes Times. “Rich is a true icon of the American wine industry, as are former recipients, including our own John Martini of Anthony Road Winery here in the Finger Lakes. Passion, commitment, and collaboration are the qualities which made Rich so special, and I am humbled to be part of his legacy and this group.”
Trezise has served as president of WineAmerica, the national association of American wine, since 2017. Its mission is to encourage growth and development of American wineries and wine grape growers. It is an advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.
Before joining WineAmerica, Trezise served 31 years as president of the Penn Yan-based New York Wine and Grape Foundation, and was on the WineAmerica Executive Committee for more than two decades.
He started his career in the wine industry in 1982 when he was named executive director of what was then known as the New York State Wine Growers Association. He then transitioned into president of the New York Wine Council, and in 1985, created the New York Wine and Grape Foundation.
Under his leadership, the New York wine industry grew from fewer than 40 wineries to more than 400. In 2014, Wine Enthusiast named New York the International Wine Region of the Year.
Martini, the first Rich Smith Award recipient and longtime friend of Trezise, noted, “Jim was a primary mover of the New York grape and wine scene — working in Albany to adjust the prohibition era rules and regulations; touting the wines of New York at competitions; herding the cats of the industry; and living the dream job with no hassles, no hurdles and no BS.”
Trezise has received many national awards for his contributions to the American wine industry, including the Grand Award of the Society of Wine Educators.
He also was named one of The 20 Most Admired People in the American Wine Industry by Vineyard & Winery Management magazine, among many other honors. He is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and serves as judge for wine competitions around the world.
Marty Clubb, owner of L’Ecole No. 41 Winery in Walla Walla, Washington, and current WineAmerica board chair, said, “I can think of no one more deserving of this award than Jim Trezise. He has been a passionate and inspiring cheerleader for nearly four decades. Jim’s positive attitude, tireless promotion and congenial advocacy inspires the entire wine industry.”
Added Vicky Scharlau, executive director of the Winegrape Growers of America: “Jim fosters collaboration and through his work in New York and with WineAmerica has nurtured a community of and for the grape industry. Jim is a true advocate and spokesperson for the American wine industry and can always be counted on pursuing the goal of unity.”