Without them, we’re thirsty. There are an estimated 250+ full-time, year-round viticultural workers of Latin American background working in North Fork wineries across the East End, plus a host of seasonal workers who arrive for the harvest and crush. Now, they have an association to support and educate them so that they can become more proficient in the ways of winemaking.
The Long Island Latino Vintners Association (LILVA) was launched last month by a committee of winemakers including Seferino Cotzojay and Richard Olsen-Harbich of Bedell Cellars, Victor Pirir of Raphael Vineyard & Winery and Miguel Martin of Palmer Vineyards. Their mission: “To promote and support the Latino community in the Long Island wine region, to advocate quality standards for its members, to promote and support the contributions of Latinos in the wine industry and to support education and professional development.”
Cotzojay, who recently offered the first Spanish language winery tour and barrel tasting in the North Fork, says the nonpolitical association aims to give Latino vineyard workers, most of whom hail from Guatemala and El Salvador, greater opportunities to grow their own careers in the industry. Cotzojay himself started working the harvest before embarking on a 10-year self-study mission that now has him making wines at Bedell.
The association has started visiting vineyards to educate workers on how to protect themselves against tick-borne illnesses, as well as local high school guidance counselors to talk about career opportunities for graduates.
“Our goal is to celebrate and support winery workers and their families through education,” says Cotzojay. “We also want to start scholarships for those who want to study viticulture, enology and culinary careers. We want to help the more than 250 full-time workers to promote them and promote better, more sustainable winemaking in the North Fork.”