A couple of years ago, when I began earnestly considering NYC roof potential, Marc Zegans, my closest confidant and a creative force to be reckoned with, suggested a roof vineyard be planted in Manhattan to create the world’s most exclusive vintage, Manhattan roof-grown wine. We batted that idea around for ages, and even attempted to contact an established Long Island vintner as well as the agriculture school at Cornell for advice. Little did we know that all along, Latif Jiji, a CUNY engineering professor, had been harvesting grapes from the roof of his Upper East Side townhouse since 1984. He has been doing just what we talked about, creating the only Manhattan-grown roof vintage, for 25 years!
It’s a bit different from how we envisioned it. Latif’s grape vine begins in terra firma in his charming back garden. It grows up between the column of windows of his traditional five-story townhouse to the roof where Latif has built an overhead structure on which the prolific grapes vines rest. Each year or two, Latif extends the structure to accommodate the growing vine. Some of it is metal, some bamboo; he uses whatever materials seem to be best at that time, giving it an evolutionary feel.
In late August, when the grapes are ready, there is an annual harvest party. Friends and family come armed with pruning shears and milk crates to cut down and collect what this past year was 636 pounds of Niagra grapes – with an expected record yield of 140 bottles of one-of-a-kind Manhattan roof wine.
Latif takes it from here, transferring the juice to five gallon containers and eventually bottling and corking it in his wine cellar, also known as the basement.
This gracious and funny man (before going up the narrow passageway to his roof, he commented, “good thing you’re not fat.”) and his charming wife, Vera, welcomed Michelle and me into their family home, sent each of us away with our own bottle of Chateau Latif and left us with the hope that we can be part of the 2011 harvest next summer. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and please check back after the holiday when we’ll return to the Bronx and see the good works that are happening above Louis Nine Ave.