Shomaker grew up in Arlington, Virginia, suburb of Washington, D.C. He graduated from George Mason University with a degree in marketing, but like so many recent college graduates, he had trouble finding a job with any potential for personal growth.
So he took a job working at a wine bar in Arlington, Virginia. Instead of just getting by, Shomaker found his passion. As Shomaker told the Finger Lakes Times, “I really got into wine. It was something I was passionate about and interested in pursuing my education through.”
After looking at viticulture programs around the country, in 2012 Shomaker enrolled in the viticulture program at Finger Lakes Community College in Canandaigua, New York.
The viticulture program at FLCC combines courses in the science of wine making, with hands-on experience in commercial vineyards, all with a focus on sustainability.
While at FLCC, Shomaker did two internships, one at Fox Run Vineyards near Penn Yan and another at Miles Wine Cellars in Himrod.
The Finger Lakes Region of New York State is one of the world’s best wine producing areas. But the Finger Lakes is famous for producing white wines from grapes grown on the hillsides overlooking the Finger Lakes.
Many vintners will tell you that, in the Finger Lakes, the summers are too short and the summer days not hot enough to produce world-class red wines.
But Shomaker doesn’t want to produce white wines, he just wanted to get the education he needed in viticulture so he could live his dream of growing red wine grapes and producing red wines in Brooklyn, which is about 300 miles southeast of the Finger Lakes.
According to Shomaker:
“The whole idea behind Rooftop Reds is to grow grapes in Brooklyn, New York, produce wine in Brooklyn, New York, and sell the first true city vintage in the world’s largest wine market.”
In Brooklyn the summers are long enough and the summer days are hot enough to produce world-class red wines. But Brooklyn isn’t known for its great soil and rolling hills. It’s known as one of the most densely populated areas of the country.
But Shomaker thinks he has a solution to both problems. He is trucking in fertile soil to grow the grapevines in.
He is also converting rooftops in Brooklyn to a new use. Brooklyn rooftops are often referred to as “Tar Beach” because resident use the rooftops to sunbathe. Shomaker plans to grow the grapevines on rooftops, because the rooftops get so much unobstructed sunlight.
Shomaker has two partners in the Rooftop Red venture; brother Thomas, who is a freelance journalist/editor in New York City; and Chris Papalia of Honeoye, a fellow FLCC viticulture student.
Last May, Shomaker and his two partners completed a Rooftop Red pilot project.
They planted 50 grapevines in seven-gallon plastic food containers on the roof of Thomas Shomaker’s apartment building in Brooklyn.
This spring, Shomaker will plant more grape vines on Brooklyn rooftops and in the ground at the old Brooklyn Navy Yard, which has been converted into a commercial and cultural hub for more than 200 businesses
Shomaker has also started a Kickstarter campaign to raise $15,000.
Shomaker’s vision is to have a rooftop tasting room next to a vineyard at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Devin Shomaker is definitely thinking outside the box.