Claudia Purita, the woman behind the One Woman wine label, is in her Southold vineyard, as usual, walking among her babies. “They say that each year is like a new pregnancy,” she says as she runs her eyes down the row with the knowledge that she has touched every vine at each stage of each growing season.
She quotes her daughter, Gabriella, as saying that she takes better care of the vines than her kids. “They don’t talk back,” Purita says from underneath a wide-brimmed hat, an essential part of her summer uniform, which includes a fully equipped leather tool belt and dusty boots.
Gabriella rolls her eyes from behind the counter in the one-room tasting shed on the western edge of the vineyard and then tells of the snowsuit her mother wore all last winter that made her look like an astronaut.
Which is to say Purita is out there every day: rain, heat, snow and even in the tornado that ripped through her vineyard in late-summer 2009, dropping hail that destroyed the vintage. Even then, especially then, she needed to tend her vines. “If you let it go, it’s very hard to recuperate,” she says. “The job of a farmer never ends.”
This is something she learned early on her family’s farm in Calabria, Italy, where she helped her father in their scattered vineyard, which provided the extended family with wine. Her family also had a press, which neighbors used for the fruit of their vines. Purita says the farm was self-sustaining—wheat, cows, chickens—and the only thing they went to the store for was paper goods. It was where she spent her time every day after school and all summer.
Her family grew muscat, an aromatic grape that she and her siblings used to eat off the vines, endangering, she says, the yield for the year.
Purita left Calabria in 1990 and moved to the North Fork, where she has worked with her husband, Frank, who owned restaurants. He currently has Bière in Greenport. A skilled cook, Purita spent a lot of time in the kitchen but grew tired of being inside. She missed the family farm. So when someone suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that she plant a vineyard, a seed was sown. In 2004 she left the restaurant business and planted three acres of chardonnay and gewürztraminer, another aromatic grape, which, of course, she tended herself.
Purita’s affection for muscat and gewürz was what led her to add three acres of grüner veltliner in 2008. The grape is the staple of Austria, and an Austrian winemaker friend suggested that it might do well on the North Fork. Grüner is another aromatic grape and, at the time, it was a novelty. Needless to say, none was bottled in 2009, but now available at the tasting room are the 2010 and the 2011 vintages. About 250 cases of wine were made each year.
Both wines are dry and have the peppery aromatic nose of Austrian grüner, as well as the high acid that’s easy to achieve on Long Island and that makes it particularly good with food. They’re light bodied yet substantial, and I find the 2011 to have a longer finish with citrus and stone-fruit flavors. 2011 was a more difficult vintage. It was so wet many winegrowers lost much of their crop to sour rot. Surprisingly, says Purita, the grüner seemed to stand up better than other varieties.
The wines are bottled in tall flutes with screw caps that make them perfect for picnics and summer dinners outside.
It’s too early to state for sure, but the wines’ purity and little intervention in the winery, as well as the acid, makes for a bottle that will get better with age. It’s ready to drink now when it’s fresh, but a few years should add complexity and fullness.
With the 2012 vintage now under way, Purita is still marveling at the way her grüner veltliner plants have adapted to our microclimate.
“The grüner leaves are such a lush green, a vibrant lime green. They’re nice and clean and shiny,” she says, adding, “green is my favorite color.”
Pilar Romero is a home gardener, canner and writer in Westhampton Beach.