When Chris Maestro signed the lease on his Prospect Heights beer bar BierWax a year ago, the previous restaurant owner in the space warned him about the grapes.
“They said come September, they will start falling. It gets quite messy,” Maestro said. “I didn’t hear anything good coming of those grapes.”
Now, Maestro has found some good for the fruit growing on a vine in the bar’s back patio. He’s partnered with Rooftop Reds for the Brooklyn vineyard’s new nonprofit, Village Vines.
The city’s (and the world’s) first commercially viable rooftop vineyard, Rooftop Reds grows Bordeaux varietals on a rooftop in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. With Village Vines, it’s looking to find wild grape vines in New York City and support the owners in maintaining the vines and soil. The program is also seeking people interested in purchasing a vine to grow in a backyard or community space through an adopt-a-vine program, with participants receiving a grape vine next spring.
Once harvested, the donated grapes will then be used to make wine, with a portion of the wine sales going back into the community, such as to a nonprofit, charity or school of the participating growers’ choosing.
“There are so many heritage grapevines growing in our communities, and I really want to get back to greening our city,” said Devin Shomaker, founder of Rooftop Reds, which opened to the public in 2016. “Our skill set is growing grapevines in the city. This was a natural progression for us.”
Earlier this month, Shomaker and Village Vines staff came to BierWax to help Maestro and his crew harvest the grapes. Climbing up a ladder and on top of benches, the team used shears to snip the grapes off the vine, which is growing up the fire escape. After two hours, they collected about 70 pounds of fruit.
The vineyard will do testing to find out what kind of varietal the red grape is, Maestro said; he’s tasted them and they were slightly sweet, with pits. The viticultural experts estimated the vine to be about eight years old.
“It’s pretty amazing — we don’t even water it, it just grows naturally,” said Maestro, who added that Village Vines will come back to help with pruning and maintaining the vine before next year’s harvest. “They know a lot more than I do how to create favorable conditions for the grapes every year.”
The fact that the grapes won’t go to waste — and will support charitable initiatives — was a win-win for Maestro, who’s celebrating the anniversary of his bar this December.
“I come from the nonprofit and education world — it’s still something that I care a lot about,” said Maestro, who gave Village Vines a list of local organizations that he’d like to see the proceeds go to. “I’m excited to see what organization will benefit from it.”
IF YOU GO
Rooftop Reds hosts a ‘Sideways’ screening and dinner pairing with Nitehawk Cinema in support of Village Vines on Sept. 28 at 6 p.m. | 299 Sands St., Building 275, Brooklyn Navy Yard | tickets $100-$150 at rooftopreds.com