Funeral services for Ralph Pugliese Sr., one of the North Fork’s pioneering winemakers, are scheduled for Friday morning.
Pugliese, who in 1980 co-founded in Cutchogue with his wife, Patricia, died Monday at his home. He was 73.
The Brooklyn-born former delegate of Local 65 of the plasterers union released his first wines in 1986 and soon became known for his Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine, a perennial best seller, which he initially produced in the basement of his Bridge Lane home while his wife hand-painted bottles with nail polish and marking pens on their kitchen table.
New York Times wine critic Howard Goldberg once described Pugliese's sparkling wine as “a crowd-pleaser.” Today the winery produces four different sparkling wines in addition to a variety of still wines and dessert wines. In 1991, Ralph Pugliese Sr. planted Long Island’s first and, pehaps, only sangiovese grapes.
The Puglieses initially planted just two acres of vines on the first 12 acres they acquired, but added more as they purchased additional land over the years.
Today the Puglieses’ vineyards total more than 50 acres and winemaking has become a family enterprise. Son Peter is now a winemaker, son Lawrence oversees the vineyards and daughter Domenica Penny is in charge of the tasting room. Another son, Ralph Jr., is a professional photographer whose works decorate the tasting room, where they are for sale.
Growing up, Ralph Pugliese Sr. made wine at his father’s side at their Queens home with grapes purchased at a market in Canarsie. Although retired from the day-to-day operations of the winery he continued to stop in on weekends to greet longtime customers, giving occasional tours, tending the tasting bar and chatting.
Ralph Pugliese “was one of those guys you could not help but like,” said Kip Bedell, who founded nearby Bedell Cellars at around the same time Pugliese started his enterprise. “He was so happy growing grapes.”
“He’d come over anytime and just want to talk and chat and he loved people coming over to his place," Bedell said. "He told us stories.”
Goldberg said that Pugliese made him and other tasting room customers "feel like a paisan."
"He'd insist, gently, that you have a piece of cheese, and another, and a couple more crackers, as you sampled his reds," he said. "He had an Italian-American's natural unfancy relationship to wine. He made good stuff. I have always been fond of his bubbly. And now I will be fond of his memory."
Born on Aug. 9, 1937, he was one of the seven children of Raffaele and Margharita (Petraglia) Pugliese. In addition to his wife and children, he is survived by eight grandchildren and two siblings, Carmela Fratianni and Lorenzo Pugliese. He was predeceased by four other siblings, Theresa Roman, Felice Pugliese, Frances Iabichella and Jospeh Lubrano.
A funeral service is scheduled for Friday at 11:15 a.m. at , followed by burial at Sacred Heart Cemetery in Cutchogue.
The family has requested that contributions in Ralph Pugliese’s memory be made to the