MADE IN NEW YORK
As much as you’d think city pollution, skyscrapers, and lack of green space would create barriers for urban viticulture, it only emboldens its trailblazers to create a new style of wine. On top of Rooftop Reds, the seasons are a little longer because of the direct heat and miles of concrete surrounding the vineyard. Those steamy temperatures allow the winery, which opened in 2016, to grow picky Bordeaux varietals like malbec and petit verdot, which normally prefer the climates of France, California, and Argentina.
“Land plots are few and far between, so right off the bat [we knew] getting partial land that we could actually build a vineyard on would be hard,” Rooftop Reds founder Devin Shomaker says. While developing the unique urban planter system as a viticulture and wine technology student at Finger Lakes Community College, he realized the benefits of having an increased amount of sunlight on the vines. According to Shomaker, the rooftop environment allows 10% more photosynthetic activity -- and negates the need for pesticides. “That’s completely untraditional and is using our urban rooftop to our advantage,” he says.
Next spring, Rooftop Reds will release its first batch of wine (a red blend of its five Bordeaux grapes) made exclusively with the city vines; until it matures, they pour wine from their upstate vineyard near Cayuga Lake and other small-batch producers in that region (like a 2016 Thirsty Owl pinot noir and 2015 Ravines Wine Cellars chardonnay).
Despite New York State’s grape production being the third-largest in the country, and wine production in the state increasing over 50% since 1985 to about 175 million bottles annually, its viticulture reputation is still playing catch-up to prestigious vineyards out west. Since opening in 2008 on the Pier 41 waterfront, Red Hook Winery has been a staunch supporter of New York wines, and sources grapes from over 15 different vineyards on Long Island and the Finger Lakes. It’s led by a team of three winemakers -- including Robert Foley, who spent the previous three decades working at some of Northern California’s most prestigious vineyards, including Markham, one of Napa Valley’s first wineries.