(This story appeared originally in the 5/20 issue of the Long Island Press)
Roman Roth, general manager and winemaker at Wolffer Estate Vineyards
in Sagaponack, started his winemaking career at an age when most of us
are focused on getting our drivers licenses and, if we're lucky, our
first cars. But, it was a natural thing for the German native.
"I was 16," he says. "My father was a cooper and a winemaker before starting a wine and beer merchant business. As a result, both of my parents were wine lovers and collectors. Wine always played a special part in any occasion. I was intrigued by the winemaking process and all the different [wine] regions in the world. The creative aspect and the opportunity to travel ultimately made me stay in the business."
And travel he has. After his initial three-year apprenticeship at the Kaiserstuhl Wine Cooperative in Oberrotweil, Roth left Germany for the U.S. in the summer of 1986. He worked briefly at Saintsbury Estate, a respected winery in Carneros, Calif. known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, before heading "down under" to work at an Australian winery you've probably heard of—Rosemount Estate.
After learning from and being influenced by Philip Shaw at Rosemount and Bob Cartwright of Leeuwin Estate (also in Australia), he returned to Germany to become one of the winemakers at Winzerkeller Wiesloch in Baden while pursuing his Master Winemaker and Cellar Master degree from the College of Oenology and Viticulture in Weinsberg. In 1992, his degree earned, it was time for Roth to head back to the U.S. Entrepreneur Christian Wolffer, looking to start his own winery on LI's East End, approached Roth and offered him the opportunity of a lifetime.
"He told me, 'You can buy whatever you need and do whatever you want. Just make sure you make the best wine possible,'" Roth remembers.
When asked what has kept him here, Roth answers, "The great challenge is to create something from scratch. We've been able to build a great team, a great winery and a consistent high quality that is the foundation of our success."
Roth believes LI is "the best growing region on the East Coast," and when describing his own winemaking style, he says, "Grapes and wine need to be treated with respect. One has to be realistic about what one is trying to achieve. I want to make balanced wines that can make a statement. Ultimately, I always want to push quality levels to new heights."
In his time at Wolffer Estate, Roth has done just that, crafting some of the best wines this side of California. You can also taste the fruits of Roth's considerable talents in the wines of Roanoke Vineyards, Shinn Estate Vineyards and Vineyard 48 on the North Fork, where he serves as consulting winemaker.
This summer, Roth plans to release a 2001 Merlot under his own label, Grapes of Roth. Since 2001 is widely regarded as one of Long Island's best growing years, and given the winemaker, it should be a stellar bottling.