The year was 1990. The wine was a Bedell Cellars merlot.
That’s when Eileen Duffy, author of the new book “Behind the Bottle: The Rise of Wine on Long Island” (Cider Mill Press), caught the Long Island wine bug. She was in graduate school and waiting tables at chef Larry Forgione’s An American Place, a pioneering Manhattan restaurant in the “local” movement.
“The restaurant was one of the first to have an all-American menu — food and wine. And I remember thinking, ‘This stuff is better than California merlot,’ ” Ms. Duffy said. “I’m sure I did not understand why [at the time]. I was an English major.”
Not long after, she was hired at Honest Diner in Amagansett, moved to the East End and created an all-local wine list for the restaurant.
Ms. Duffy, who now serves as editor and digital editor for Edible East End and Edible Long Island, respectively, began writing about local food and wine in 2003 for the now-defunct Southold community weekly, Traveler Watchman, which she said largely ignored the local wine or food scene.
“I was like, ‘This is a wine region and you guys have no food and wine column?’ So I started one,” she said. “And then we started a magazine/insert for the paper called The Table as the official publication of Slow Food East End — which also started in 2003.”
Since then, Ms. Duffy, who previously served as an editor for The Suffolk Times, has immersed herself in the Long Island wine industry, joining only a handful of writers who regularly comment on the region and its wines. It’s that experience and the accrued knowledge that made “Behind the Bottle” possible — and an important milestone for the region.
“She knows the winemakers, she knows the sales and tasting room people, she knows the farmers and the vineyard workers and she’s connected the wine world and the food world through her work at Edible,” said Carlo DeVito, publisher at Warren Street Books, creative director for Cider Mill Press and editor of Ms. Duffy’s book. “We felt that she could tell the stories of the winemakers and the region in this type of format. And I think she has pulled if off wonderfully.”
The book captures the region’s history and present — from the pioneering spirit of Louisa and Alex Hargrave, whose eponymous winery was Long Island’s first, to Regan and Carey Meador and their new ideas at Southold Farm + Cellar, Long Island’s newest label.
Written in a clear, concise style, “Behind the Bottle” is easy to read and takes the reader on a journey from the mid-1970s through present day.
Every bottle of wine tells a story, so it’s fitting that the stories of each well-chosen winemaker, grape grower or winery owner are told through the lens of their wines. We’re introduced to German-born Wölffer Estate Vineyards winemaker Roman Roth through his 1997 Chardonnay. We learn the backstory of Anthony Nappa, winemaker at Raphael, through three vintages of the wine he’s perhaps best known for: Anthony Nappa Wines Anomaly, a white pinot noir. In “Russell Hearn: An Aussie in New York,” Duffy tells the tale of how Hearn made his way to the region he now calls home.
“I think it will give the reader a closer, more personal understanding of winemaking on Long Island and commitment from the people behind the wines,” said Mr. Hearn, who at presstime had not yet read the book. “Due to her knowledge of the area and formative people involved with our industry, she will bring a unique and valuable perspective.”
When asked what part of the book she was most proud of, Ms. Duffy said it was the feeling of accomplishment that came with completing the work. But it’s an emotion that is coupled with a twinge of grief.
“It’s kind of sad, too,” she said. “My mom died in 2013 and she would have loved to be around for this. I would have liked that, too.”
To get the latest news about the book and find out about upcoming readings and signing events, visit facebook.com/eileenmduffywine.