On a wall inside the production facility at Living Roots Wine & Co., two clocks hang side by side: one shows the local time in Rochester, the other the time in Adelaide, Australia. It's a striking reminder of the transnational nature of Living Roots, an urban winery which opened its tasting room on University Avenue in November of 2017. Run by husband and wife Sebastian and Colleen Hardy, Living Roots makes and sells wines in both Upstate New York and South Australia, and aims to bring together the best of both regions.
Sebastian Hardy, the head winemaker at Living Roots, comes from a long line of winemakers in McLaren Vale, just south of Adelaide. His great-great-great grandfather founded wine company Thomas Hardy & Sons in 1853, and the business remained in the family for the next 140 years. (It is now Accolade Wines). Sebastian's father, Geoff Hardy, began his career at Hardys, but started his own business, Wines by Geoff Hardy, in 1980. Sebastian himself "bounced around making wines at different wineries" in different countries after getting his degree in Viticulture and Enology, he says.
Colleen Hardy (née Hurley) is a Fairport native and Mercy High school graduate. After studying marketing at Michigan State University, she began her career in marketing research in Chicago. After a couple of years, she says "cubicle life" started to feel stale. "I realized marketing research would be a lot more interesting if it was about a product I cared about," she says.
Interested in winemaking, she quit her job and moved to South Australia in 2014 for a five-month stint at Hardys Tintara in South Australia. After she met Sebastian, five months turned into two years. Together they came up with the idea for an urban winery that combined the flavors of their respective hometowns. Colleen says that Rochester's burgeoning craft beverage scene made it an attractive place to start a winery, and Sebastian was interested in the cool-climate wines of the Finger Lakes. Plus, she says, "I was getting a little homesick."
The concept of making wines in two places at once is simple in theory — the execution, not so much. The bi-continental business has the Hardys flying back and forth between the U.S. and Australia, spending eight months in Rochester and four in Adelaide. When I spoke with Colleen and Sebastian, they were still fighting jet lag from their latest trip to Australia, where the harvest season is just beginning. The Hardys acknowledge the difficulty of managing harvest and production in two different hemispheres and time zones, with different currencies, laws, and opposing seasons. "It's a logistical nightmare," Sebastian says.
But despite the challenges of running a small business in two countries, the Hardys say the arrangement gives them a lot of flexibility in the types of wines they wish to create and explore.
"That's the benefit of making wines in more than one vineyard," Sebastian says. "You're not tied down to a particular style."
Since founding Living Roots, the Hardys have harvested four vintages in their two locations, producing about 3,500 cases a year, they estimate. Currently, they offer ten wines in their tasting room, four from New York State (including one from Long Island) and six from Adelaide and McLaren Vale. New York wines include a dry Riesling, an unoaked chardonnay, and a dry rosé. Australian wines include Grenache, cabernet sauvignon, and two types of Shiraz.
I sampled a tasting flight of four red wines, which arrived with a handy card detailing the flavor notes of each and the order in which they should be drunk – from light-bodied to full-bodied. The highly drinkable 2016 Shiraz ‘Pepperberry’ stood out in particular for its fruity, spicy notes, and I happily took a bottle home with me. I also tried the soft and subtle 2016 Finger Lakes Chardonnay, an unoaked wine with light floral notes.
Though they already have contacts and expertise in the South Australia wine world, Colleen and Sebastian say they're still learning a lot about the Finger Lakes wine industry. They consulted with Peter Bell of Fox Run vineyards for local knowledge of viticulture and winemaking in the Finger Lakes.
They also acknowledge the help of some very important business partners — their parents. Sebastian's father provides valuable viticulture insight, while Colleen's father helps the couple with business planning. According to Colleen, her father was the one who found the space for rent at 1255 University Avenue, which is a century-old former industrial building that recently underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation.
The couple designed much of the winery's layout and furnishings themselves, and brought in Hannah Betts of Lives Styled to tie it all together (Betts has also worked on the interiors of businesses such as Radio Social, Joe Bean Coffee Roasters, Just Juice, and Scratch Bakeshop's new location in the Neighborhood of the Arts).
The winery itself is divided into three parts. In the tasting room, timber beams support an exposed ceiling, and huge picture windows look out onto University Avenue. A standing bar takes up one corner, with a cleverly designed wine rack on the wall behind it. On the other side of the tasting room is small retail space stocked with wine and gifts. The winery also sells cheeses from Upstate New York and Australia as well as chocolates from Hedonist Artisan Chocolates in the South Wedge.
The production area is not open to the public, but through the glass doors opposite the tasting room you can glimpse Living Roots' stainless steel vats and oak barrels. Next to the production area is a cozy room the Hardys call "the vault" (formerly a jeweler's vault), which they plan to use to host private events, classes, and tasting dinners.
At present, Living Roots is not distributing wine to any other establishments but plans to do so in future. For now, visitors can enjoy wine by the glass, tasting flights of red wine ($9) or white ($7), or take home a bottle ($18-$32).