In 1980, there wasn’t as much wine on the North Fork as there is today — just lots of potential.
So it was a risk when Brooklyn natives Ralph and Patricia Pugliese decided to purchase a large tract of land on Main Road, just west of Cutchogue East Elementary School, and quickly began planting chardonnay, merlot and cabernet sauvignon grapes with their four children.
“It was a lot of work,” Patricia recalled recently. Her husband, the vineyard’s winemaker for many years, died in 2011. She is now Pugliese Vineyards’ sole owner.
“Everything was a lot of work,” she said. “We had no machinery or equipment. Everything was done by hand.”
Today, as then, the Puglieses work as a family to run their 55-acre vineyard, which has expanded to nine varietals. Daughter Domenica is the tasting room manager, son Peter took over as winemaker a few years ago and son Lawrence is vineyard manager. Another son, Ralph Jr., is a photographer whose work is sold at the winery.
“I hope that my children continue with it,” said Patricia, who lives in Cutchogue. “That is what my husband and I are leaving to them.”
Q: How did you and your husband get interested in wine?
A: My father-in-law made his own wine in Naples, Italy. When my husband was old enough, he taught him how.
Q: When did things start taking off at the winery?
A: I would say it had to be maybe the third year we were in business. It was very quiet. The first harvest we bottled was the chardonnay in 1986. The following year was the merlot and cabernet sauvignon.
Q: How has the industry changed over the years?
A: It has changed a lot. I mean, Riverhead itself is so built up with stores and buildings — and now there are approximately 50 wineries.
Q: What makes your vineyard stand apart from the rest?
A: It’s family-owned and -operated and I hand-paint bottles and glasses that I personalize free of charge. A lot of people come back time and again because we have a pond and the arbor and picnic benches. They’re allowed to bring their lunch. It’s quiet and peaceful and off the road. It’s in the background.
Q: What is the best thing about owning a vineyard?
A: I like to be here to greet the customers and talk to them and ask them questions — what they do for a living. It’s really nice because you meet a lot of really nice people and we have a lot of repeat customers.
Q: What is the most challenging?
A: You have to make sure that your wines are consistent [from year to year]. My husband had a book [with winemaking notes] that he gave my son Peter. He said, “This book is yours for the future. This is what you should go by. You never have to change anything.” And my son has really followed that.
Q: Pugliese is the only vineyard on Long Island that grows Sangiovese (an extremely popular red grape from Tuscany). Why is that?
A: My husband always said, “I’m Italian. I have to put Italian wines out there.” So he did the Sangiovese. It’s a lighter red wine but very tasty.
Q: What was your husband’s favorite wine?
A: The white port. He liked sweets and it has Niagara and muscat grapes and that’s what he loved about it.
Q: What is your favorite Pugliese wine?
A: I don’t drink. I never did!