She was going to grow a little grape garden in her front yard, that’s all.
Theresa Dilworth loved cooking and gardening at her weekend home in Mattituck, where she’d escape from her weeks in Manhattan working as an international tax attorney.
When she told some friends and colleagues she wanted to make small batches of wine, they suggested she buy land and start a vineyard.
She wasn’t so sure — until they offered to invest money in some property on Union Avenue in Aquebogue and help her start up a winery.
“I said OK,” Ms. Dilworth recalled, sitting in the parlor room of Comtesse Therese Bistro on Main Road in Aquebogue.
She began planting acres of grapes little by little in 2000 and released her first commercial vintage, made with Merlot grapes from Martha Clara Vineyards in 2003, before her own grapes were ready.
She quickly saw that her most popular wines were ones fermented in Hungarian oak barrels, which tend to add subtle hints of cinnamon and nutmeg to the finished product. She soon used Russian oak barrels for a Chardonnay.
“At that time, no one on the North Fork used Russian oak,” she said. “For me, it was a way to distinguish myself — people would say, ‘Oh you’re the one who uses all these different oaks.”
Now, four varietals grow on 20 of her 42 acres. Comtesse Therese Vineyard releases about 1,000 cases of whites, reds and roses every year — and the Hungarian oak is still among their most popular.
Ms. Dilworth doesn’t have a traditional set-up. She used to sell her wines at The Tasting Room, a multi-vineyard tasting room formerly located in Peconic, until it closed earlier this year.
She now holds tastings at Comtesse Therese Bistro, a French-themed restaurant she opened last fall on Main Road in Aquebogue.
The bistro, which serves only Ms. Dilworth’s wine, is open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday, for lunch on the weekends and for private parties by appointment.
Guests can take their glasses of wine to the restaurant’s outdoor balcony overlooking a garden of herbs used in the bistro’s menu items.
Ms. Dilworth continues to ferment wine in unique barrels, something she says still distinguishes her from other local vineyards. A Cabernet Sauvignon, slated for release later this month, is currently fermenting in Canadian oak barrels.
While she may be known for her oaky wines like the Hungarian Oak Merlot — which the Wine Enthusiast called “a surprisingly sexy, supple wine that’s dripping with vanilla and spicy dark plum flavors,” Ms. Dilworth also loves her roses.
Her Blanc de Noir (which means white from black in French) was made precisely to Ms. Dilworth’s liking and is one of the vineyard’s most favored.
“I like a really pretty, pale, pale pink,” she said of the Blanc de Noir, which has an undeniable hint of sugar.
“I don’t like it bone dry,” she said. “I like a little sweetness.”