Would You Drink a Wine Grown In Brooklyn?

A new rooftop vineyard is shaking things up in New York.
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A new rooftop vineyard is shaking things up in New York.
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When you think of New York City, what springs to mind? Cool clubs? Sure. Great food? Definitely. Rolling vineyards? Probably not — which is exactly what Devin Shomaker is trying to disprove.

The 31-year-old winemaker is the founder of Rooftop Reds. Located atop a warehouse in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the vineyard focuses on Bordeaux varietal red wines — with everything from planting to barrel aging occurring on a single rooftop. And although their first harvest won’t take place until 2017, the venue will open to the public this Fall, replete with swinging hammocks and an outdoor tasting room.

A lush rooftop full of booze? Yes, please. But Shomaker is in it for more than just the gimmick: he truly believes that urban environments are the future for great wine.

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“I studied viticulture and enology at Finger Lakes Community College,” he says. “Where I became obsessed with the idea of urban winemaking. There are so many urban wineries, but no urban vineyards. In 2013, I started a test vineyard on a roof in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn… and saw so much success that I decided to put the idea on KickStarter.” 

Shomaker easily reached his $16,820 goal, enabling him to pursue plans for a full fledged, licensed vineyard in the heart of New York City. Brooklyn, he says, was always his first choice.

“As global temperatures rise, wine regions will shift,” Shomaker explains. “Traditional regions, like the Central Valley in California, are becoming too hot for wine. Such high temperatures produce sugary wines that are high in alcohol, and not as pleasant to drink. New York City, however, is also getting warmer, bringing us into that temperature sweet spot. We have an extremely high number of Growing Degree Days — days when it’s warm enough for the vines to expand — but don’t experience excessive cold.”

And although it might be difficult to convince a New Yorker that January doesn’t entail excessive cold, Shomaker is right. The city actually has a mild, maritime climate.

“It’s always a few degrees warmer here than in the Finger Lakes or on Long Island,” says Shomaker. “So we have a longer growing season. You need a long growing season to produce robust reds, which is why the East Coast has traditionally struggled in that area. Pair that with the fact that New York City has a maritime climate, and we’re pretty much the ideal location.”

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One of Shomaker’s only concerns — if you can even call it that — is that New York gets a lot of rain — 44” each year, to be exact. To fight precipitation, he chose planters and soil based on their ability to drain water quickly and efficiently.

So now that we understand New York City’s potential to become a breakout wine region, why the added decision to plant on a roof? Why couldn’t Shomaker find an empty lot somewhere in which to plant vines?

“Picture a vineyard, and you’ll see rolling hills,” says Shomaker. “Vines are almost always planted with inclines and elevation. Hills allow for the free flow of air, which prevents vines from succumbing to disease. Placing our vines on a roof achieves the same effect, with winds swirling off the East River.”

The idea of New York City air mingling with grapes that are eventually put in our body is, to say the least, a bit displeasing — but Shomaker asserts the air here is cleaner than in the farms of America’s heartland.

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“The Clean Air Act from the 1960’s and 70’s was purely focused on cleaning air in urban environments,” explains Shomaker. “There was a huge focus placed on New York City in particular, and we actually have some of the cleanest air in America. That’s why urban farming — like our neighbor, Brooklyn Grange — is so popular here.”

It goes without saying: We’re very excited for Rooftop Red’s first harvest. But for those of you who, like us can’t wait until 2017 — which is a good 700 Instagram posts away — you can stop by this Fall to enjoy a glass of Merlot in a swinging hammock. Date night just got a whole lot easier to plan.

Photos by Photos Courtesy of Rooftop Reds