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The Boatman’s Call 

The Boatman’s Call

Sophy Holland

Trent Preszler has instilled the lessons of his rural childhood into his life and work.


Photography by Sophy Holland. Groomer: Angela Di Carlo. Shot on location at Rocking the Boat workshop, Bronx, NY

"I'm kind of swimming against the tide a little bit," says Trent Preszler, a winemaker and boat builder who grew up on a cattle ranch in South Dakota with a professional cowboy as a father. But that tide is turning, and in the post-Brokeback Mountain world of marriage equality, Preszler may soon seem less like an anomaly, and more like a role model.

He remembers getting a coffee can full of seeds from his parents for his eighth birthday. "They were all mixed up, so I didn't know what was what," he recalls. "I just planted a garden with them, and that marked the beginning of my infatuation with horticulture." He would receive the same gift the following year, and again the year after that, each time improving his knowledge of which ones to plant where, and when. In a rural community with a one-room schoolhouse and few distractions beyond the junior rodeo, he had plenty of time to cultivate his green thumb.

It's not surprising that a kid who grew up on a cattle ranch in South Dakota would himself end up working in the fields, but Preszler's journey to a Long Island winery turned on a simple choice he made as a student. Invited to decide between two research grants at Cornell, one to examine Holland's flower industry, and the other to analyze the market for New York wines, Preszler chose the latter. The result was a 300-page master's thesis that won him an award from Cornell and a job offer from Bedell Cellars, where Preszler quickly put his insights into practice. Today, Bedell is one of the stars of American wine: Its 2009 merlot was served at President Obama's 2013 inaugural luncheon. Another distinction? Bedell regularly invites some of America's most acclaimed artists, such as Chuck Close, Ross Bleckner, and Mickalene Thomas, to design its wine labels, treating each commission as a unique portrait of the wine's essence.

As for boat building, that too brings Preszler full circle to his childhood. His father passed away last December, and it was during the long winter, looking at the collection of tools he'd inherited, that Preszler began to think about making boats. "It's a lot like farming," he says. "You have to understand the things you can't control, like the weather, or a certain grain in the wood that makes it split a certain way. How you adapt and respond to those imponderable aspects is part of the creative process." He pauses to think. "Whether you are on a prairie in South Dakota, or a boat on the ocean, something about it is very centering," he says. "It's a similar feeling of stillness that I remember as a child, raising a garden or helping my dad on the farm."

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