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How a South Dakota Funeral Led to Creation of Upscale Canoe Company in New York

Preszler Woodshop from Preszler Woodshop on Vimeo.

When the CEO of a New York winery makes the decision to moonlight as an upscale canoe builder, you don’t expect South Dakota to be at the heart of the story.

But it is.

Trent Preszler is a smart guy. He holds two advanced degrees from Cornell University: an M.S. in Agricultural Economics and a Ph.D. in Viticulture.

In the 1990’s he landed a job at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy. From there it was off to New York where, since 2002, he’s headed up Bedell Cellars, a winery, founded in 1980, on the North Fork of Long Island. Preszler is also the Chairman of the Board of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, and Chairman of WineAmerica.

Excited to get back in the shop this weekend, it's been too long! ( @randeedaddona)

A post shared by Trent Preszler • Wood Artist (@preszlerwoodshop) on

But a little more than three years ago, a life-changing event led Preszler to add another occupation to what’s become quite the intriguing resume – upscale canoe builder.

The date was December 12, 2014 – the day Preszler’s father, Leon, died at the age of 69. That is what brought Trent Preszler back home, to bury his father, and begin a whole new chapter in his life.

Home for the Preszlers was a cattle ranch near tiny Athboy, South Dakota, 35 miles Southeast of Lemmon, in the North Central part of the state. There are no official population records for Athboy, a town that hasn’t had its own post office since 1944.

While on that visit home, Preszler was sorting through the ranch’s workshop and came across his father’s tools. Those tools made the trip home with him to New York, and within months helped launch a new hobby.

Inspired by a canoeing scene on the TV show Parks and Recreation, Preszler began arming himself with all of the canoe-building knowledge he could get his hands on – from how-to books and YouTube videos – to give Leon’s old tools a new purpose.

What began as a whim is now a business venture – Preszler Woodshop, housed in an old blacksmith’s shop that dates back nearly 200 years. It’s there that Preszler creates his one-of-a-kind floating masterpieces, using only the finest woods and fittings.

It takes about a year to create each one. According to a profile in the latest edition of Esquire magazine, he’s currently working on four. All of that craftsmanship comes at a hefty price – $100,000 per canoe.

So far, he’s sold one.

But this is about so much more than money. It’s about keeping a very important memory alive.

Somewhere, an old cattle rancher is smiling…

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