The history of wine on Long Island

By GLENN ROHRBACKER
Posted 9/12/19

Local author Eileen Duffy gives a look into how wine became a Long Island industry

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The history of wine on Long Island

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Eileen Duffy will present “Behind the Bottle: The Rise of Wine on Long Island,” based on the book of the same name that she authored in 2014. The Historical Society of Islip Hamlet is hosting the event, which is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 19, at the Islip Public Library. 

The historical society’s president, Madeline Hanewinckel, calls Duffy a “talented author” and “gifted speaker” who “explores the history of the region and the founding families who turned the North Fork into a world-class wine region.” 

Duffy, a 25-year resident of the East End, said she always wanted to be a writer, noting that she kept a diary as a kid and studied English in college. “I went for the lucrative major,” she laughed. 

In 2009, Duffy also completed a wine credential, the Level 4 diploma from the London-based Wine Spirit Education Trust, which requires two years of study, blind tastings, research papers and tests. 

“The wine thing started in college and continued in [graduate] school,” she said. “I worked in white-tablecloth restaurants with great wine lists and I was hooked after we did some in-house wine tasting. That’s when I discovered my sense of smell was made for wine.” 

Duffy said she started studying wine when she and an ex bought a wine shop in-Westhampton. She also worked for Edible East End magazine and wrote extensively about Long Island wine. 

Since she had already been writing about food and wine on the East End since 2003 for Edible and other local publications, Duffy already interviewed the major players and had a lot of “institutional knowledge” about local wine.

“Sitting down with each winemaker was fun,” she said regarding the writing of her book, which is organized by winemakers, each of whom picked a wine that was a favorite of theirs, either from a unique vintage or the result of innovation. 

“I tell their story, why they picked that particular wine and then [we] taste it together,” she added. “By the end, we had everything from a fresh chardonnay to a 1993 dessert wine.” 

Duffy said there are many elements that go into making wine, such as the weather, climate, and the soil choices made by winemakers and vineyard managers. 

“There’s a lot of trial and error that goes into creating a new wine region from scratch,” she said, adding that Long Island’s first wine grapevines were planted in 1973. The local winemakers have learned a lot in the 46 years that followed, Duffy said, noting that there are “good bottles” at all prices. 

“What I learned, and what readers can learn too, is the history of the region and the personalities behind it,” she added. “People like to know who is growing their food and making their wine.” 

When asked if she plans on writing another book in the future, Duffy remarked, “I’ve got some ideas.”  n

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