Posted by Book Reviews | Posted on 01-04-2016| Posted in
Long Island wine is “world class.” At least according to Eileen M. Duffy. Behind the Bottle, Duffy’s first book, is a collection of vignettes featuring Long Island winemakers. A well-balanced blend of biography and history, it paints a portrait of a region brimming with passion and innovation.
Behind the Bottle is divided into four sections—“The Pioneers,” “The Craftsmen,” “A Vision of a Sustainable Island,” and “The Future of Long Island Wine”—which progress chronologically from the dawn of viticulture on the Island to a look at the new wave of winemakers, like Anthony Nappa and Regan Meador, who are currently shifting both traditional and regional paradigms.
Duffy begins by paying homage to the region’s early players. She opens with a chapter on Louisa Hargrave, who along with her then-husband Alex planted vinifera (Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Cabernet Sauvignon) in Cutchogue on the North Fork in 1973. At the time, the region was mostly potato farms and the Hargraves’ decision to plant French wine grapes was considered absurd. But they were not alone in their endeavors. Equally brave and idealistic individuals, like Richard Olsen-Harbich, former winemaker at the now defunct Bridgehampton Winery (an “expensive lesson” in what not to do) and current winemaker at Bedell Cellars, and Dave and Steve Mudd, the father-son team who, beginning in 1974, pioneered vineyard management on Long Island, were more than willing to help the Hargraves carve out a Northeast winemaking niche.
While the early chapters of the book establish the region’s history, the later chapters foreground its uniqueness. The aforementioned Nappa and Meador are prime examples of up-and-coming winemakers who are bringing novelty to Long Island wine. Nappa is the winemaker at Raphael, but he also manages the Winemaker Studio, a cooperative tasting room in Peconic, and even has his own label, Anthony Nappa Wines. Under his label, Nappa has many uniquely named creations, among them Anomaly, a popular still white Pinot Noir. Duffy musingly labels him “The Master of White Pinot Noir.”
In a similar vein, Meador, co-owner and winemaker at Southold Farm + Cellar (which is currently having some legal difficulties), prides himself on liking “weird grapes.” A few years ago he ran a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $24,900, which has allowed him to plant three acres of Lagrein, two and a half of Teroldego, two of Syrah, and one of Goldmuskateller. While he waits for these vines to mature, he busies himself with making curiosities like his 2014 Damn the Torpedoes, a lambrusco style dry red made from Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Pinot Noir.
As editor of Edible East End and Edible Long Island, Duffy has an intimate knowledge of the North and South Forks. Although she certainly has a bias for the place she calls home, her claim of “world class” wine on the East End is not entirely hyperbolic. This past October, I spent four days tasting on the North and South Forks, visiting many of the wineries mentioned in Behind the Bottle, and find that I agree that Long Island is making some serious wine—especially for a region not even half a century old.
Like a bottle of Frizzante (Nappa’s version of a pét-nat), Behind the Bottle is refreshingly accessible and easily consumed. I especially appreciate the simplicity of Duffy’s journalistic prose. The only real demerit for me is the book’s numerous typos, which I did find distracting. The book would certainly have benefited from better proofreading before going to press.
The greatest compliment I can pay Duffy’s book is that reading it made me want to go back and re-experience Long Island wine country. If you live anywhere in the Northeast, you should be checking out the East End. It’s certainly been overshadowed by the Finger Lakes, but it’s really a worthwhile wine destination. But before you plan a visit, I suggest picking up or at least thumbing through Behind the Bottle to get some guidance for your itinerary.