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Roman Roth comes from a winemaking family. Growing up in Germany, his father was a cooper and barrel maker, later becoming a wine merchant when barrels became “unfashionable.” Roth's family vacations were spent visiting European wineries, sparking his dream of making wine himself, despite his parents' hopes for him to become a banker.

“You can’t sing in a cubicle, but you can sing in a wine cellar,” Roth said.

Roth learned his trade in Germany and spent five years working at wineries in California and Australia before pursuing his master’s degree. Initially planning to work full-time in Australia after graduation, Roth received another job offer from Christian Wolffer. Wolffer's promise of buying whatever was needed to make the best wine, along with a slight exaggeration about New York City's proximity, convinced Roth to join Wolffer, where he has now spent 32 years.

“I love Long Island,” Roth said. “The sea breeze of the Atlantic sets us apart and makes us the best wine-growing region on the East Coast. Our wines are elegant and balanced, able to stand up to the big, bold wines from California. That’s why I came here.”

To say it’s been a challenge competing with California is an understatement. Roth's biggest obstacle was overcoming regional prejudices. People wanted to be served Chateau Latour and Brunello because “it shows you have style and money.”

But Roth has stayed true to himself and true to the region. Styles have changed and so has the American and worldwide palate.

“I went overboard with the heavy, fat wines,” Roth said. “You buy a Mercedes, and then your neighbor buys a better Mercedes, and it’s a race for no purpose. And that’s what you did in order to outshine your neighboring winery. You had to make a fatter wine.”

Roth attributes the change in style to a change in eating practices. Food is better with wine, and wine is always better with food. Menus have changed, consumers have become more health conscious, and a whole new world of flavors has opened up in everyday American cuisine, making it pair better with Long Island wines.

However, there’s one caveat. Roth sees a need for more local restaurants to embrace Long Island wines.

“There’s plenty of fantastic wine from affordable to high-end,” Roth said. “For us to succeed, restaurants need to start embracing local wines. Liquor stores have already seen the light, but restaurants remain a challenge.”

Roth admits that wineries could do more to engage restaurant owners.

“It’s our own fault,” Roth said. You know how many of these restaurant owners have not been to a winery visit? They’ve never been to the South Fork of North Fork. It’s amazing. We need to do a better job of inviting people.”

“If you go to an Italian restaurant, of course, you have 50 Italian wines on the list. But have you tried local wines? You don’t want to listen to rock music every day or opera every day; you want to mix it up. That’s what makes life fun, and it’s the same with wine.”

Roth envisions the Long Island wine region becoming a year-round destination.

“We need to promote the advantages to become a great wine region,” Roth said. “The key is year-round business. You can buy a great Burgundy or a great Italian red from here to Timbuktu in every restaurant and every liquor store. But for a great Long Island wine,  you have to travel here. In the summer it’s so busy. But we have seven months of the year where the hotel rates are normal, and people will come year-round. Now the restaurants will have more year-round business, and then we can do wine dinners in the winter. We have to advertise them. Then they stop in liquor stores, the winery, take the wine home, and it will be beneficial for everybody.”

“This is when you have the time, because you don’t have to push people out after one and a half hours to get to the next sitting. They can sit there for three hours talking about Long Island. That’s what we’re trying to push, of course. And I think it’s coming.”

The future of Long Island wines might include lesser-known varieties. At Wolffer, Roth and his team cultivate a series of unique wines beyond their gold label series, including Gewurztraminer, Semillon, Tocai Friulano, and Trebbiano, which Roth aims to grow more of in America.

“We think it might only take 15 acres,” Roth said. “Right now, we have four and a half acres, so we’re on the path. Trebbiano is a fun variety, suitable for Long Island, fungus-resistant, easy to grow, with great acidity, vibrancy, and freshness.”

Wolffer's future might extend beyond Long Island. With vineyard properties around the world, including a Summer In A Bottle Rosé from Provence, France, and the Finca series from Argentina, Wolffer’s lineup is more diverse than ever. They even offer non-alcoholic wines from Germany.

Despite Wolffer’s global reach, Roth’s passion for Long Island’s wine growth remains strong. As a former President of the Long Island Wine Council, he understands that the region can only grow together.

This sentiment is echoed by every winemaker and grower we've spoken to in our Local Winery of the Month series, and we’re just as excited to see it happen.

Shop All Wolffer Estate Wines Here!