Brooklyn rooftop vineyard to sell wine for $1,000 a bottle

Rooftop Reds, billed as “the world’s first commercially viable rooftop vineyard,” growing vines on a rooftop in New York, will sell its first wines at $1,000 a bottle when they’re ready in 2019.

Image: Rooftop Reds.

The urban, rooftop vineyard is situated in New York’s Brooklyn Navy Yard development, a 300-acre industrial park that is home to small-scale manufacturing companies.

Vines are planted in a specially designed ‘urban planter system’ which Rooftop Reds developed with the aid of Finger Lakes wine industry leaders and Cornell University.

The 14,800 square foot site is home to 42 planters which hold 168 vines with the first harvest taking place in October 2017.

Founder of Rooftop Reds, Devin Shomaker, a viticulture and wine technology graduate, first opened the vineyard to the public in April last year.

Speaking to CNBC, he expressed his confidence that the $1,000 a bottle price tag reflects the fact that the wine will be “a collector’s item”.

He continued: “It will be the first of its kind, and it’s extremely limited.” Although spending $1,000 on a bottle of wine will certainly not be for everyone, he added its novelty value will mean “it’s cool for everyone to come and see”.

The vines were planted in 36 inches of soil, 40% of which is crushed, recycled glass mimicking the presence of sand in the soil and creating what Shomaker has described as a “sustainable light-weight soil” similar to a traditional vineyard.

Rooftop Reds is growing Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot varieties.

After harvesting its first grapes last month, Rooftop Reds has said that 30 cases of the bottles to be ready for sale in 2019.

Due to the costs involved in building a production facility, especially for such a small volume of grapes, post harvest, the grapes will be taken to the Point of the Bluff Vineyards’ production facilities for ageing and bottling.

Rooftop Reds is therefore the opposite of what is traditionally thought of as an urban winery, whereby grapes are sourced from outside the city, grown in existing wine regions, and then shipped in for production. In this case, grapes are cultivated in the city and then sent to a winery outside of the city.

Shomaker decided to do things this way as he believes that where the grapes are grown has a bigger impact on the wine than where it is subsequently produced.

WE OPEN FRIDAY! Come hang out with us from 4-10pm! Make your free reservation on our website. Link in bio 🍷

A post shared by Rooftop Reds (@rooftopreds) on

In the meantime, the vineyard is selling three wines, including a white blend and a rosé, under its own label, made from grapes sourced from the New York State’s Finger Lakes region. It is generating revenue from the sale of these wines from other Finger Lake producers such as Sheldrake Point, Hermann J. Wiemer, and Chateau Lafayette at its rooftop tasting room.

During the summer, the vineyard was open to visitors on Wednesdays and Thursdays between 4pm and 9pm, Fridays between 4pm and 10pm, Saturdays between 12pm and 10pm, and Sundays between 2 and 8pm. Guests can book a slot using Eventbrite on the vineyard’s website. 

Speaking to CNBC, Shomaker expressed his desire to have “the first-mover advantage”.

“We are the first movers in the rooftop vineyard space, and we are four years ahead of anyone who tries to copycat us,” he said.

After following the development of container farms and raised-bed rooftop farms, Shomaker wanted to test the concept with vines.

“There is a whole mysticism around wine culture, but how many people know what vines need to grow and prosper? Viticulture management comes down to science, and that is what we are proving out on the rooftop,” he told CNBC.

An entrepreneur with a marketing degree from George Mason University, Shomaker worked in business development, sales management and event coordination before moving to China with his brother David. The pair set up a swim school programme which has now branched out city-wide, teaching over 2,000 Chinese young people.

Thanks to @outdoorfest! Rooftop yoga, does it get any better?

A post shared by Rooftop Reds (@rooftopreds) on

In 2012, Shomaker enrolled in Finger Lakes Community College’s viticulture and wine technology program, setting up Rooftop Reds while he was still studying.

As part of the process, Devin, his brother Thomas and classmate Chris Papalia, tested the viability of the project by planting 50 grapevines on the roof of Thomas’ apartment. After the vines survived the harsh winter, the group had confidence that their novel concept had legs.

Shomaker secured rental space on the roof of a building in the Navy Yard development after raising $16,820 on Kickstarter and in spring 2014, started a nursery rooftop vineyard.

He also secured a $500,000 investment from John Rodenhouse, owner of Point of the Bluff Vineyards in upstate New York.

The vineyard hosts a series of events in the summer including pop-up dining experiences, yoga classes, and pizza, wine and film screenings. In September this year, it set up a wholesale division with the aim of stocking local restaurants and shops.

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