Winemaker Ralph Pugliese dies at 73

COURTESY PHOTO | North Fork winemaker Ralph Pugliese, right, with his wife Patricia.

Ralph Pugliese, who co-founded Pugliese Vineyards with his wife, Patricia, died Monday morning, May 16, at his home in Cutchogue. He was 73.

Mr. Pugliese was one of the pioneers of the East End wine industry, buying land in Cutchogue in 1980 where he planted his first two acres of grapes, according to his son Peter, who continues as winemaker.
Winemaking was always in his father’s blood, he said, recalling that when he was a toddler, his dad was making wine at home in Queens.

By 1986, Pugliese Vineyards bottled and sold its first wines — chardonnay and cabernet savignon, he said. Pugliese Vineyards today is set on 55 acres of land and has produced numerous award-winning wines and champagnes. As the years went by, Pugliese Vineyards produced merlot, pinot noir, riesling, cabernet franc, zinfandel and niagara grapes for its wines and champagnes.

Wines from Pugliese Vineyards won numerous awards over  the years, including a double gold medal for its Blanc de Blanc brut at the Los Angeles County Fair and a gold medal from the Taster’s Guild for the same wine.

Patricia Pugliese continues to hand-paint wine bottles and wine glasses for customers to purchase as special gifts. The operation remains a family endeavor, with son Peter as winemaker, son Lawrence serving as vineyard manager, daughter Domenica Penny overseeing the tasting room operation and son Ralph Jr. making calendars and pictures of the vineyard.

“He provided a wonderful life for the family,” Peter Pugliese said of his father. “He just did it out of his heart. We know he was the best.”

Ralph Pugliese was born in Brooklyn on Aug. 9, 1937, to Raffaele and Margharita (Petraglia) Pugliese. Before moving full-time to the North Fork in about 1987, he was a delegate for 20 years to Local 65 of the Plasterers Union. In addition to his wife and children, he is survived by eight grandchildren and two siblings, Carmela Fratianni and Lorenzo Pugliese. Four other siblings, Theresa Roman, Felice Pugliese, Frances Iabichella and Jospeh Lubrano, predeceased him.

When he wasn’t consumed with his work at the vineyard, he loved fishing and anything related to the sea, Peter Pugliese said, adding that his father had congestive heart failure and had been ill for some time.

Visiting hours are set for Wednesday and Thursday, May 18 and 19, at Coster-Heppner Funeral Home in Cutchogue, from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. A funeral service will take place Friday, May 20, at 11:15 a.m. at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Mattituck, followed by burial at Sacred Heart Cemetery in Cutchogue.

The family has requested that contributions in Mr. Pugliese’s memory be made to the Cutchogue Fire Department Rescue Squad.

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