They’re women and they all make wine on the North Fork

03/01/2012 5:14 PM |
Macari Vineyards

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | Kelly Urbanik, head winemaker at Macari Vineyards, sits among the casks in the Mattituck winery’s barrel room.

Winemaking is not just a man’s world, at least not anymore.

Of the more than 50 wine-producing entities on the North Fork, 11 percent have a woman behind the wine. Seven percent of the wineries produce an entirely female-made product, with day-to-day responsibilities falling to the head winemaking woman — or women, such as Old Field’s mother-daughter winemaking team of Rosamond and Perry Baiz.

“One of the strengths of our region is our very high percentage of women in the wine industry — from ownership to management, through the vineyards, wineries and tasting rooms,” said Steve Bate, executive director of the Long Island Wine Council.

The percentages are close to those of California, where, according to womenwinemakers.com, 9.8 percent of the wineries have women in charge.

Theresa Dilworth, owner of Comtesse Thérèse in Aquebogue, said that when she started out 12 years ago, hers was the North Fork’s first female-owned vineyard/winery. “There were lots of husband-and-wife teams,” she said. “After me, there was Alie Shaper of Brooklyn Oenology and Bouké Wine.”

Ms. Dilworth said she doesn’t see the North Fork’s wine industry as being male-dominated. As an international tax lawyer at Ernst & Young, she was the first woman in her department in 1987, and has been outnumbered by men on a much higher scale.

“It was 17 men and then me,” she said. “Three years later we merged with Arthur Young and then it was three women out of 35. It’s different out here. To me it’s more about the people. Gender doesn’t really enter into it.”

Claudia Purita owns One Woman Vineyards in Southold, where she is also winemaker and vineyard manager.

“I’m just a hard worker,” she said. “Women are treated as if they can’t do as much as a man, but I think I’m proving them wrong.”

Ms. Purita does nearly all the work to both manage the 16 acres of grapes and make 2,000 cases of wine each year.

“I’ve been called a superwoman or a bionic woman,” she said. That could be the result of having grown up on a farm in Italy.

“All of the food and drink on the dinner table, including the wine, had to be worked for … We didn’t really have time for TV or to play,” she said.

Like Ms. Purita, 30-year-old Kelly Urbanik, head winemaker at Macari Vineyards, grew up making wine at home with her family.

“My grandfather always had vineyards,” she said. Despite childhood dreams of becoming a veterinarian, she majored in viticulture/oenology at the University of California/Davis. As an undergraduate intern in 2001, she worked as a vineyard monitor for wine giant Beringer.

“I was an extra set of eyes looking for diseases on their vineyards throughout Napa Valley,” Ms. Urbanik said.

She also worked the harvest in Burgundy, France, in 2003 as part of a scholarship offered by the La Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, a wine-drinking brotherhood established in the 18th century. The following year, while working at another French winery, Louis Jadot, she realized her dream of becoming a winemaker.

“It was the first time I worked in a real cellar,” she said. “I liked the fact that if I worked in the winery, I could help the wine become what it’s supposed to be.”

She never dreamed she would one day work in New York. “In California, nobody talked about wines from the East Coast or New York,” she said.

She recalls answering an ad for an assistant winemaker on winejobs.com that said, “Must be willing to relocate.”

“I received a phone call from an unusual area code asking to please call them back.” The caller was John Levenberg, Bedell’s winemaker at the time, who came out to California to meet her.

She earned the title of Bedell’s assistant winemaker in June 2006 and officially became head winemaker two years later after Mr. Levenberg left the company. But she alone blended Bedell’s 2007 Musée, which received 91 points from Wine Spectator, the most awarded to any East Coast winery.

“I consider that my wine,” she said.

Ms. Urbanik left Bedell in June 2010 to become head winemaker at Macari. As for her gender, Ms. Urbanik said she’s only thought of herself as a woman in the wine business when others have brought it up.

“Otherwise, I haven’t really thought about it,” she said.

gvolpe@timesreview.com