Magazine article The New Yorker

Up on the Roof

Magazine article The New Yorker

Up on the Roof

Article excerpt

UP ON THE ROOF

Jancis Robinson, the British wine writer and the editor of "The Oxford Companion to Wine," is also a member of the Royal Household Wine Committee, which meets for tastings in the cellars of Buckingham Palace. Recently, she happened to be in New York on a weekend when there was an advertised opportunity to camp out overnight in a vineyard in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. At nine o'clock on a Saturday evening, at the end of a week filled with sommeliers, tastings, and Mario Batali, Robinson put on her down coat, took a taxi to Brooklyn, walked up to the top of a former warehouse, and went out onto its fifteen-thousand-square-foot roof, which is leased to a company called Rooftop Reds. "It's jolly cold, isn't it? I mean, God," she said. She was relieved to remember that she hadn't committed to staying until morning.

In one direction, there were views of Manhattan; in the other, downtown Brooklyn. In between, Robinson could see a hammock, a few small domed tents, and a hundred or so vines in waist-high aluminum planters. There was also a white tent about the size of a boxcar. It glowed; there was the chatter of a dozen people finishing dinner. They sounded high-spirited, or at least determined not to regret having spent three hundred and thirty dollars per couple to camp out in a spot that one day may be able to describe itself as the city's first commercial vineyard, but until then could more easily be thought of as a blustery roof, with unproven vines, next to a power station.

"These are baby, baby vines," Robinson said. Even allowing for perfect ripening, they could produce only "a tiny, tiny, tiny amount of wine." She was not dismissive, but the idea of an urban vineyard--rather than an urban winery, using grapes grown elsewhere--was unfamiliar, and it contained economic and cultural mysteries. "I'm just not sure why the public would want a wine that was made from grapes grown on a roof in Brooklyn," she said. She inspected a planter. "I hope they didn't have these specially made. I hope they're recycled from somewhere."

Devin Shomaker, the thirty-one-year-old C.E.O. of Rooftop Reds, stepped out of the white tent and welcomed Robinson, and told her that the planters were custom-made. Shomaker has qualifications in both viticulture and marketing. As a younger man, he organized the first beer-pong tournament in China. His conversational style has unusually strong notes of keynote speech. …

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