ILR, Uncorked

Winery owner Bittner ’80 draws on Ives education
Winery owner Bittner '80 draws on Ives education
Monday, June 14, 2010

In a massive house of 100 windows overlooking Lake Ontario, Margo Sue Bittner '80 is pouring wine today and telling guests about ghosts who haunt the place.

Bittner is getting back to winery business after celebrating 30 years as an ILR alum this past weekend.

During a Reunion reception, she recounted how -- in perhaps unexpected ways -- an ILR education has served her careers and personal life.

Bittner opened The Winery at Marjim Manor in Niagara County in 2004 with plenty of agribusiness and other experience, much of it nourished by ILR's curriculum.

Managing dozens of farm employees, public service, overseeing business finances, marketing -- "All my ILR background came into play," she said.

Bittner ran a dairy farm, then a fruit farm and raised three children with her husband Jim Bittner ’80, a College of Agriculture and Life Sciences graduate.

Joking that she "threatened to unionize the cows," Bittner is proud of her volunteer work.

She missed just one meeting during 12 years as a school board member, played in the community band with her children and serves with them in the local Lions Club.

Bittner also edited the newsletter "Executive Session" for eight years and beat breast cancer.

Twice-daily milkings are a thing of the past. The Bittners sold the dairy and Jim Bittner now farms fruit, some of which is funneled into Marjim Manor wine.

Shipped to 35 states, Marjim wines are bottled with fun.

Some labels feature family dogs, cats and events or are named after escapades at the storied 1800s home, once a summer retreat for the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Married six months before graduating from ILR, Bittner looks back to campus often, especially with two children who are also Cornell alums.

Kevin Bittner ’04 works full time for his father, president of a fruit farm near the winery. Janet Bittner ’06 works in sales and marketing for Marjim Manor. Both graduated from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

A third child, David Bittner, graduated from Purdue University in 2008.

Marjim Manor ( welcomed 26,000 visitors last year and could top that this year.

Margo Sue Bittner smiles, contentedly. "I spend my days pouring wine and telling ghost stories."