Widgets Magazine

Rita Winkler of  Greenport’s Vines & Branches  on Olive Oils, Balsamic Vinegars, Health & the Parallels with Wine

Q: How did you come to the North Fork? A: I worked in the wine world for 18 years, and would call on accounts here and on the South Fork.  We bought a cottage in East Marion and vacationed there for nine years; then bought a house in Southold in ’06.

The North Fork is a great place for a food business because of the sustainability commitment here, and our amazing farm to table, fresh culture.

Q: How did you get interested in olive oils and vinegars?

A: I’ve always loved to cook.  After visiting Italy on work related trips, I became familiar and interested in extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars. They were often produced at the vineyards I visited. Olive Oils are similar to wine…each olive varietal and respective growing regions add different characteristics, just like wines.

Q: Are balsamic vinegars also like wine?

A: Yes. Balsamic vinegars are made with a grape called Trebbiano and after cooking over copper kettles, are then aged in 5 different wood types, known as the Solera Method.

Over time it reduces and reduces and becomes thicker and sweeter. Most of the ones that we carry in bulk have been aged between 12 and 18 years.

Q: You were in the wine industry and had an interest in olive oil and vinegars. How did you get from that to opening Vines & Branches?

A: In ’03 I got a diagnosis of breast cancer. I was trying to restore my body after/during the chemo through diet. I had all of these olive oils and balsamic vinegars in my pantry (from my work trips to Italy), and I started adding them to my greens juicing and protein shakes.   I found that the olive oils in particular were really healing; I didn’t get sores in my mouth, my hair didn’t get brittle, my metabolism improved. I wanted to share what I was learning with others.

Q: Wow, sorry to hear about your cancer experience.  Did you open the store right away?

A: No, at the time I was still doing my wine quest. In California, traveling on wine business, I experienced stores like what I ultimately created, but there was nothing like that here yet. So I started looking for an opportunity.


I opened up on Main Street in Greenport in March of 2012, then I opened a second store in  Westhampton in June 2012 and  3rd store in Southampton in April 2013.  Both of those were sublets, and only short term opportunities, but enabled me to test those markets. As of 2015, when those sublets ended I decided to relocate the Greenport store to Front Street and focus on it and my website rather than find new Hamptons locations… at least for now.  The Front Street move gave me more foot traffic plus an amazing harbor front view.

Q: What is the Vines & Branches experience?

A: We are a tasting room of fresh olive oils, all natural balsamic vinegars and specialty foods. We carry a combination of premium extra virgin olive oils, white and black truffle oils, roasted nut oils, fruit oils and other infused olive oils as well as 25 varieties of white and dark balsamic vinegars.  About 50 varieties in all.


We also offer a selection of gourmet specialty foods that include tapenades, pestos, dips, salsas, soups, jams, honey, herbs and  sea salts  as well as olive oil based skin care. Many products are available for sampling and testing.  All products are available on our website.

Q: A tasting room? How does someone properly taste an olive oil?

A: We offer bread samples for dipping for those who wish, however, the proper way to taste olive oils is by taking a little sip and a gentle swallow. You get the full taste profile as the olive oil cascades from the front of your tongue down your throat where you’ll experience the ‘ fruit’  followed by the ‘pepper’ finish.

Q: How varied are olive oils? What affects the flavor?

A: Olive oils vary generally by region; Spain, Greece, Italy, they all offer different varietals. Mild, medium and robust are the three flavor profiles. At Vines & Branches, we have a table dedicated to premium extra virgin olive oil from all over the world with descriptions about each varietal.

Our extra virgin olive oils are always the fresh current vintage, also know as ‘crush’. What you buy in the supermarket often is not.  Due to the industry’s lack of regulation, commercial olive oil producers, like Colavita, Bertolli, pass off ‘fake olive oil’ as extra virgin olive oil, however, these bottles may contain as little as 5% actual olive oil, using ‘filler’ oils for the balance.  In addition, these bottles might contain old oil, even rancid oil.  There’s so little regulation.  See article, “Fake Olive Oil- What You Need to Know” on the homepage of Vines & Branches' website.

Q: What does ‘extra virgin’ mean?

A: Extra virgin is the first crush, immediately following when olives are harvested. With proper technique, they go from harvest to crush and then into sealed in a bottle in hours. That’s not the case with commercial grade. Commercial grade will also contain pits and stems crushed in it.

Our infused olive oils are the second press.  First press, extra virgin olive oil, is too “intense” to infuse because of the flavor intensity that comes with the first press.

Q: What do you like best about being a shopkeeper?

A: I love sharing the trends, the awareness, the health benefits.  I can control what I bring to people and the wealth of info that goes with it.  I’m always looking for something new, fresh, different.

My biggest challenge most of the time is keeping up with demand, in particular for our popular flavors.  We sell out quickly!

Q: Your store reflects your wine industry experience in its tasting room focus and international inventory. Are there any other winery-type aspects?

Vines and Branches clubA: Yes, we have a membership club, similar to wine clubs. We ship four times a year, offering a seasonal oil and balsamic vinegar with each shipment.

We also offer a discount every time they come into shop, and we invite members to seasonal special events.   More information here.IMG_3944



Special event favors is another service we offer.  At Vines & Branches, we are dedicated to bringing you unique healthy favors that match your unique menu and personality.

Q: You mentioned how important it is to you to help inform the public about the health and other aspects of oils and vinegars. Do you do anything in particular to spread the word?

A: We send a monthly newsletter featuring food and cocktail recipes, recent health news, industry news, as well as a monthly discount offer.

For more information and to sign up for their monthly newsletter, visit Vines & Branches' website.