(This story recently appeard in Dan's Papers)
Winemaker Profile: Theresa Dilworth of Comtesse Therese
By Lenn Thompson
Monday through Friday, Theresa Dilworth can be found working in Manhattan as an international tax attorney for Pfizer, Inc. But on Fridays, just hours after leaving her office, you’ll find her out on the North Fork working in the fields of Le Clos Therese Vineyards as principal owner, vineyard manager and winemaker of Comtesse Therese wines.
Since 2001, Dilworth has been making award-winning wines only from grapes she’s purchased from other growers on the North Fork.
That’s about to change, however.
While she’ll continue to make wines from other growers’ grapes under the Comtesse Therese label, Diloworth is harvesting her own grapes for the first time this fall. Her vineyard, 40 acres of farmland in Aquebogue along route 105, is home mostly to Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in addition to some Merlot. Why the focus on Cabernet Sauvignon when Long Island is known as the land of Merlot? Dilworth says, “Based on climate, soil and temperature data, I believed it to be the best red grape for my particular site.”
Now, as she’s watched her Cabernet and Merlot grow and mature side by side, she feels a special connection to the Cabernet. “There is something about the Cabernet Sauvignon growing in the field that I can relate to more. It is tough, stiff and woody. The leaves are harder, the fruit is darker and richer, the skins are blacker and thicker with more intense flavors, and it has more backbone. Maybe it is more similar to my personality.”
A life-long gardener, Dilworth approaches growing grapes the same way she approaches her other gardens, but has discovered important differences. “At first, I found grapes rather analogous to roses. However, their one defining characteristic is their extreme sensitivity to the environment. They pick up every little nuance from the soil, the weather, and the surrounding leaves. That’s why wines all taste different from each other every year, while tomatoes or cabbages or cherries consistently taste the same.”
Dilworth believes in “knowing and loving” classical French techniques and it shows in her winemaking as well. She feels one shouldn’t “manipulate the grapes too much through mechanical or chemical or technical means. Don’t over-process; keep things simple and true to their original state.”
While most winemakers use, and most wine drinkers hear about, French and American Oak, Dilworth uses Hungarian and Russian varieties as well. “I think Hungarian oak is particularly compatible with Merlot, for some reason. Just based on tasting it, I found it a good match. I think the Russian oak gave our Chardonnay a bit of eucalyptus.” She’d also like to be the first winemaker to use Canadian oak.
While busy working in the fields and at Premier Wine Group, the custom crush facility in Mattituck where she makes her wines, Dilworth expects to release the main part of their 2002 vintage this week, including the vineyard’s first Cabernet Sauvignon. Her wines, including a couple of different Merlots, a Chardonnay and a Rosé, are available at both Tasting Room locations, one in Peconic and the other in Jamesport, or online at www.tasting-room.com.
For more information on Comtesse Therese and Le Clos Therese, visit www.lctwinery.com.