An hour from the famed Finger Lakes wine region, Rochester, New York’s third-largest city, boasts a successful craft beer industry and, now, an emerging wine culture of its own. Exemplifying that is Living Roots Wine & Co., a unique operation making wines with fruit from vastly different environments: the nearby region and South Australia.
Owned by husband-and-wife team Sebastian & Colleen Hardy, the two take on transcontinental harvests with admirable rigor. We catch up with the couple in between international flights to find out why they go through the trouble of sourcing grapes from two different hemispheres.
What is Living Roots Wine & Co and where are you located?
Colleen: Living Roots is about bringing together the best of our hometowns and their surrounding wine regions. For me, Colleen, it’s Rochester, New York, and for my husband, Sebastian, it’s Adelaide, South Australia. We split our time between Rochester and Adelaide, making wine in each, and [in November] opened our new urban winery and tasting room on University Avenue in Rochester’s Neighborhood of the Arts.
We found a really great industrial building that was about to undergo a historic renovation, and we knew we wanted to be a part of that. It was constructed in 1909, with some additions made in 1930… we were excited to incorporate that history and some cool original details… We loved using different textures, and towards the end, we added a mix of plants, rugs and custom watercolor maps of South Australia and New York State. It’s been great to finally have people enjoying the space and the wines that we worked so hard on.
Utilizing regions on opposite sides of the planet, where is it that the actual winemaking happens?
Sebastian: We make the New York State wines in our urban winery in downtown Rochester. We worked with a few wineries in the Finger Lakes in 2016 to get a head start on production before our space was ready, but we were up and running for the 2017 harvest and had a great first vintage in our winery. We also crush, ferment, press, age and bottle in Australia, bringing finished, labelled wines over to the U.S.
Colleen: We work with numerous growers in each country, sourcing grapes mainly from the Finger Lakes in New York, and the Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale in South Australia. We don’t personally have our own vineyards, though we source some of our grapes from Seb’s dad’s vineyard in the Adelaide Hills. In the next year or two, we’ll start sourcing grapes from my dad’s vineyard in the Finger Lakes as well.
We currently have 10 wines [including both New York State and Australian wines] in our tasting room, and we’ll be releasing more in the near future, with some of them as staples in our range, and some as one-offs. We have a bunch of new wines in the pipeline at the moment, including Sauvignon Blanc and Barbera from the Adelaide Hills and Nebbiolo from the Southern Fleurieu in South Australia. We also have some new Finger Lakes wines coming, including rich styles of Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer, plus Cabernet Franc and a few different styles of sparkling.
Do you have a separate winery in Oz, or are you using other people’s facilities?
Sebastian: To begin with, we were mainly using other people’s facilities. That was a lot of fun, particularly making wine at McLaren Vale Winemakers. There’s a cool collaborative vibe about the place, and I was able to be hands-on which isn’t always the case with contract winemaking…We started setting up a little winery on my parents’ vineyard in the Adelaide Hills and made a couple of small batches there. This year, we’ll be making all of our wines in our own winery.
Do you sell any wine there, or is everything produced shipped back to America?
Sebastian: We don’t sell any wine in Australia yet, but we will soon. This year we’re looking to start distributing our Australian wines there, and we’d also like to bring our New York State wines to the Aussie market. You don’t see many New York State wines in Australia, and we’ve actually never seen one in Adelaide. We think there’s a real opportunity there given most of the wines going around Australia are from warmer regions, and there’s a strong interest in cool climates amongst the industry and wine enthusiasts.
What are advantages of producing wine in these very different places?
Sebastian: We’re able to make many different and complementary styles of wine, with New York State being particularly strong for sparklings and white wines, and South Australia contributing some really amazing reds. Though of course there’s plenty of overlap. We’re also making some reds from the Finger Lakes and some whites from the Adelaide Hills. We also get to represent the regions surrounding our two hometowns that we are so proud of.
It seems like an awful lot of legwork. What challenges have you faced so far?
Colleen: We’ve heard of other wineries operating in multiple countries, but usually utilizing contract facilities rather than travelling back and forth in order to be hands on like we are.
To be honest, [this is] really exhausting. On the production side, we’re hopping between two hemispheres, constantly in harvest or bottling mode. On the business side, we’re operating in two countries with different legal and financial requirements. And we have a tasting room open six days a week.
It certainly feels hectic at times, but it allows us to make a wide range of styles, and on a personal level, we get to spend time with both of our families and friends.
Has making wine, especially with this intercontinental business design, always been what you wanted to do? How did the operation evolve?
Colleen: It’s pretty crazy looking back on everything that’s happened in the last few years. I was working in marketing research in Chicago and wanted to get into the wine industry. I figured that in order to properly market wine, I should probably learn more about how it’s made and was itching to get a break from my cubicle. So I decided to find some harvest work. I got in touch with a winery in South Australia, Hardys, through a Rochester connection… One thing lead to another, and suddenly I was quitting my job, moving out of my apartment, and heading to McLaren Vale to work the 2014 vintage.
I met Seb pretty soon after arriving in Adelaide… It quickly developed from there, and while I was only meant to stay in Adelaide for five months, I ended up being there two-and-a-half years before we came back to Rochester and started splitting our time between our two hometowns.
Once we met and realized how well we worked together, and a bit of homesickness kicked in on my part, the plans began to evolve. With me being from Rochester and Seb from Adelaide, we have the good fortune of being surrounded by renowned wine regions with very different climates and styles. We loved the idea of making wine in both places, allowing us to make most varieties and styles really well… The timing lined up, with Seb finishing up his role at Wines by Geoff Hardy and the 2016 vintage approaching in Australia, and it all grew from there.
So Sebastian, how did you get into winemaking?
Sebastian: While it’s not family-owned anymore, my great-great-great-grandfather founded Hardys, and it remained in the family for 140 years. My dad, Geoff Hardy, worked at the old family business early in his career, but established his own vineyards at a relatively young age.
I really developed an interest, and later, a passion for it. I took a gap year before [college] to work at a couple of wineries, and then went on to get my degree in Viticulture and Oenology from the University of Adelaide. I’ve worked vintages in Australia, France, Italy, Austria and, now, upstate New York. I also spent a couple of years on the sales and marketing side of things for my dad’s more alternative varieties, such as Teroldego, Lagrein, Fiano, Grüner Veltliner and Nero d’Avola.
With the majority of both of your wine educations and experiences coming from Australia, why choose to open your tasting room in New York?
Colleen: We saw a lot of potential for an urban winery in Rochester, with the craft beverage scene seeing a lot of success and most of the wineries in the region being an hour’s drive away. It also seemed like an opportunity to bring more wine education to the city, which we hope to promote through our tasting room, classes and tours of our winery.
That seems to match up with the city’s growing food and beverage scene. What are your favorite places to check out around town?
Colleen: It’s easy to get cooped up in our building, where we live and work, but we definitely have some favorite spots to eat and drink when we do get out. You never have to try hard to get me to Good Luck, The Revelry, The Owl House, Nosh [and] Radio Social.