WSJ: Winemaker Seeks Rooftop Vineyard in City

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  • Client: Brooklyn Navy Yard

The Wall Street Journal’s Keiko Morris highlights Rooftop Reds, a commercial vineyard and wine-production company posed to open at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Via the article:

Devin Shomaker chose a career in agriculture, growing grapes and making wine. But with his heart set on living in the nation’s largest city, he knew he had to find some way to marry these seemingly dueling goals.

More than two years in the making, that solution—a business called Rooftop Reds—is moving closer to reality.

On Monday, the Public Design Commission of New York City is set to vote on his company’s plans to construct a commercial vineyard, wine-production facility and educational-event space on the roof of Building 275 in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Later this month, the board of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp., the nonprofit organization that manages the 300-acre waterfront industrial park for the city, is expected to approve a lease securing the 14,000-square-foot rooftop for the venture.

“Rooftop Reds was my path to finding individualism in this massive market, start my own business and take the viticulture skills and collaborative farming attitude back to the city,” said Mr. Shomaker, 31 years old.

Like many other companies at the Navy Yard, Rooftop Reds is starting small. Mr. Shomaker has joined forces with Point of the Bluff Vineyards, a vineyard and winery from upstate’s Finger Lakes region, to help with production.

Mr. Shomaker, whose other partners are his brother Thomas Shomaker and former classmate Chris Papalia, expects to hire about five part-time workers to help with the vineyard’s events program this summer and one or two full-time workers in the off-season. The company will also offer internships to local high school students.

The long-term goal is to expand to other rooftops in the yard and possibly elsewhere in the city.

Over the years, the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp. has supported dozens of businesses that started with a handful of employees, and some of those firms have since grown to more than 200 employees, said David Ehrenberg, the corporation’s president.

“We’re not necessarily looking for the most established company that pays the most rent,” Mr. Ehrenberg said. “We’re looking for scrappy entrepreneurs.”

Mr. Shomaker, who lives in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood, whetted his entrepreneurial spirit after college when he spent several months in China helping his older brother establish an English-language swim school. He returned to a tough job market in 2010, worked various office positions in sales and business development, but realized the job he enjoyed most was his part-time position at a wine bar in Arlington, Va., where he grew up.

“I hated my corporate life and loved my wine-bar life,” Mr. Shomaker said.

So in 2012, Mr. Shomaker enrolled in a two-year viticulture and wine technology program at Finger Lakes Community College, immersing himself in the area’s farming and winemaking community.

Always intrigued by urban agriculture, Mr. Shomaker said he began researching whether urban rooftop farming techniques had been applied to growing grapes for wine. He found little information on the topic he said.

With the help of Mr. Papalia and his brother, he devised a pilot project planting 50 vines of Bordeaux grape varietals on the roof of his brother’s Windsor Terrace apartment in Brooklyn in May 2013, Mr. Shomaker said. He wanted to see if the vines would survive the winter without much management. They did.

“The natural maritime climate, because of the air flow and the constant wind, was a beautiful environment for suppressing fungal disease,” said Mr. Shomaker, noting that the elevation also aided in the vines’ growth.

In the spring of 2014, Mr. Shomaker raised $16,820 from 203 backers through Kickstarter, which he used for a nursery of 220 vines planted in small pots at a temporary site atop a Navy Yard building. He has since created a partnership with Point of the Bluff, which is a co-owner of Rooftop Reds.

John Rodenhouse, the owner of Point of the Bluff, said he views the venture as both a marketing opportunity and a way to expand distribution.

“The concept of being on a rooftop in New York is pretty exciting,” Mr. Rodenhouse said. “So it helps with distribution and opens up not only Rooftop Reds but also the Point of the Bluff brand into a significant market.”

Although Rooftop Reds’ first harvest will take place next year, the venture’s first vintage of wines made from grapes grown in the Finger Lakes area will go on sale this week, Mr. Shomaker said. He is aiming to open the vineyard in July.

Rooftop Reds’ first crop is expected to produce about a ton of grapes, making 50 to 60 cases, said Mr. Shomaker, who already has his eye on expansion in the city.

“The Brooklyn Navy Yard will be home base,” he said, “but there is no shortage of rooftops.”

The full article can be found here.

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