Q&A with alumnus Trent Preszler

Trent Preszler graduated from Iowa State University in 1998 and is now CEO of Bedell Cellars in Long Island, New York.

Micaela Cashman

Trent Preszler grew up on a cattle ranch in South Dakota and attended a one-room schoolhouse. Now at 33 years old, Preszler is CEO of Bedell Cellars in Long Island, N.Y., a nationally recognized winery owned by Michael Lynne, producer of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

What year did you graduate? What did you get your degree in?

I graduated in 1998 with a B.S. in interdisciplinary studies from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. It was a broad-based course of study I designed myself, called “Global Science Policy and Bioethics,” which reflected my academic interests at the time.

What did you do after you got your undergrad degree?

I won a Rotary scholarship to study plant biology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, where I was also a research scientist at the Royal Botanic Garden in the U.K. After completing my postgraduate diploma in Edinburgh, I returned to the U.S. and earned a M.S. in agricultural economics from Cornell University in New York. I am currently a Ph.D. candidate in horticulture at Cornell, which I am working on finishing up part-time while also running a company, Bedell Cellars, on Long Island, N.Y.

Did you originally start in that program when you came to Iowa State or did you have other career aspirations?

Actually when I first came to Iowa State University as an 18-year-old in 1995, I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian, because I had grown up on a cattle ranch in South Dakota. But that plan ended after I didn’t do very well in organic chemistry class.

What activities or organizations were you involved in?

While at ISU, I was a Freshman Honors Program section leader, I played saxophone in the varsity football marching band, I was vice president of the Liberal Arts and Sciences Student Council and I was director of legislative affairs for the Government of the Student Body.

What is your favorite thing about Iowa State?

The campus itself. When I walk around those beautiful buildings and the open spaces, I feel a connection to a specific time and place in my life that I will never forget — a time that in many ways shaped who I am today. I see students on campus today, and I remember all the thoughts and fears and excitement running through my veins when I was in their shoes. I think the timeless quality of the central quad on campus provides an anchor for the evolution of students during their experience at ISU.

Describe your career path.

My first job after college was as an intern in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in Washington, D.C. I had an incredible learning experience working alongside President Bill Clinton’s team of advisers for science, agriculture and the environment, but it also helped me realize that I was not interested in a life in politics. I was more passionate about issues and ideas than process — plus I wanted to get back to my roots in agriculture. I went to graduate school at Cornell and then got a job at Bedell Cellars. I have worked at Bedell ever since 2002 and worked my way up through the ranks; I was named Chief Executive Officer of the company in 2010.

What duties does your job entail?

As CEO I am responsible for overseeing the management of the entire company, which primarily involves making sure our management team is positioned for maximum success. On any given day I could be doing a range of things, from compiling financial statements to picking grapes to meeting with a restaurant customer. It is a very diverse job because wineries are complex and multi-faceted operations.

What has been your proudest accomplishment in your career?

I’ve had a few, including when I was named CEO, but I hope my best days are still ahead because we have some big goals for our company that we’re still working hard to accomplish.

What is your best memory of college?

Speaking at graduation in front of the audience at Hilton Coliseum.

What do you wish you would have known while in college that you know now?

That life moves by so fast. I would have taken it slower in college. When you’re a young college student, I don’t think you have a full appreciation for savoring every moment because the moments seem endless.

What advice do you have for college students?

Keep an open mind, and don’t worry about locking in on one professional track too soon. Life is all about change, and you will probably end up moving around and doing more things than you might imagine.