My Google Maps said I’ve arrived at Rooftop Reds – the world’s first ever commercially viable rooftop vineyard, as I learned later, but I looked around and I saw nothing but warehouses and construction sites of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It took me awhile to figure out the right building but there I was, enjoying the East River view, with a glass of rose in hand. Intrigued by the idea of growing vines atop of an industrial building, I met with Rooftop Reds founder Davin Shomaker, General Manager TJ Provenzano, and Village Vines director (Rooftop Reds nonprofit initiative) Malcolm Baker to talk about this unique project, and of course to taste some wine.
Dream Big. How it All Started
Coming from an entrepreneurial background Davin Shomaker founded Rooftop Reds while studying at Viticulture and Technology school in Finger Lakes. He always knew he wanted to have his own wine business, and urban viticulture sounded both, intriguing and innovative.
He started a pilot project, a vine nursery in his brother’s winter rooftop terrace, so by the time the location has been officially approved, he already had high quality vine stock ready to be planted at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Brooklyn ‘Terroir’ and Rooftop Reds Wine
The Brooklyn Navy Yard is not the place that comes to mind when you think about urban viticulture. However, with the help of Finger Lakes wine industry leaders and Cornell University a special urban planter system has been developed that allowed to create perfect grape growing conditions at the rooftop.
There are 42 planters on their 14,800 square-foot rooftop. Only red grape varieties are grown here – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. Hence, the name Rooftop Reds.
Soil composed of clay, sand and recycled glass provides excellent drainage, sufficient nutrition and keeps optimal pH level necessary to grow healthy and decease free vines. Vines benefit from relatively high elevation receiving more direct and concentrated sunlight and having better air flow, thanks to the East River breeze.
Only one barrel of red wine is made out of this ¼ acre rooftop vineyard with the first vintage to be released in 2019. Most of the grapes for the Rooftop Reds Label are sourced from New York State’s Finger Lakes region, where wine is bottled at the production facility of a long-time partner winery.
Rooftop Reds. Not Only Vineyard
The rooftop is open for public since early spring until late fall. There is an outdoor wine bar where you can taste Rooftop Reds along with other great wines from Finger Lakes producers, such as Sheldrake Point, Hermann J.Wiemer, Domaine le Seurre. It was a very hot day when I visited Rooftop Reds, so I’ve tasted only two wines, dry Gewurztraminer and rose, both delicious and very refreshing. I’m definitely coming back for their reds soon.
There is a big picnic area up there. You can bring your own food (isn’t it awesome?), order wine from the bar, relax in hammock, play cornhole or just enjoy the city view.
Besides, there’s plenty of exciting things happening at the Rooftop Reds almost every day, from Taco Tuesdays and Sunset Yoga sessions to Movie Screenings and Viticulture classes. Lastly, for the first time since its opening Rooftop Reds is offering the chance to harvest this season’s grapes. So, roll up your sleeves and come to experience this once-a-year happening and learn about urban viticulture.
Check out full schedule here and make a reservation.
Other big things from Rooftop Reds and future projects
Village Vines, the Rooftop Reds’ nonprofit initiative, started as a way to promote urban viticulture and to give back to the community. There are a lot of wildly grown grapes in New York City, and very often, people don’t really know how to manage them and what to do with the fruit. Rooftop Reds team will share their knowledge and vine growing experience, and in exchange for their service will collect the fruit and make wine under the Village Vines label. Part of the Net Profit will be distributed among verified nonprofit organizations such as charities or schools. The idea behind this project is to grow vines together, similar to communal agriculture practices used in many European countries.
Just recently, Rooftop Reds has expanded with Grape & Grain, a real gem of the East Village managed by TJ Provinziano. The bar offers well-curated selection of local wines, including Rooftop Reds, and American comfort food. Focused on sustainability and domestic ingredients they serve handmade pastas, house made focaccia bread, local cheese and charcuterie. The beverage program is entirely domestic, and highlights sometimes underappreciated, yet delicious wines of the United States, from aromatic whites from Finger Lakes to skin-contact from Long Island and Virginia reds.
Soon to be opened is another rooftop vineyard, wine bar and retail point in Bushwick, BK. And the team is not going to stop further expanding their reach in the near future.
Rooftop Reds is a perfect example of how viticulture can be successfully applied into urban space. Rooftop farming has a huge impact on urban sustainability, improving air quality, providing better access to fresh produce, reducing storm water management cost, not to mention just having more green spaces to promote a sustainable and livable city.
Follow Rooftop Reds on Social Media @RooftopReds and stay tuned for new events coming soon.