July 23, 2019
Just like as it takes a village to raise child, an exceptional bottle of wine requires the input of more than just the farmer and the winemaker. In addition to the human component, raising healthy, beautiful grapes and delicious wine involves diverse flora and fauna that nourish the land and surroundings and feed the microbiota in the soil and the cellar. We consider ourselves shepherds of this immense eco system that is the MAHA. The sheep are but one essential element that contribute to our successful balance in the vineyard, and their contributions are many including grazing, fertilizer, meat and good vibes.
Most people think sheep replace the mower. That’s not exactly true. During the growing season, the sheep live in a 10 acre pasture on the east end of our farm until the first vineyard block has been picked. At that point, we move them into the harvested block to eat any remaining lower leaves and weeds. We are careful to not let them completely strip the vine of leaves as they are essential for gathering reserves post harvest.
As the vines are shifting to taking up more nutrients from the soil rather than through their leaves, the sheep efficiently move through making their contribution to the soil via their poop. Our sheep are Dorpers, a breed that does not requiring shearing. Their wool sheds naturally. As we walk a vineyard block after the sheep have grazed it, we see bits of wool in and around the vines. Wool has been found to contain nitrogen, phosphate and potash. The combination of the wool and manure is a perfect slow release fertilizer.
The sheep remain in the vineyard through bud break in the spring rotating through the vineyard block by block, contained by a roughly 1/2 acre portable fence. In an ideal scenario, we move them through the entire vineyard at least once in a dormant season. The cover crop continues to grow and flower after the sheep have been removed, providing habitat and nourishment to bees and other beneficial insects.
Fall brings an abundance of cuteness in the form of 20-30 lambs. After a few months in the pasture the lambs will return to the vineyard with their moms until late spring, and the cycle begins again. Some lambs are culled at just under a year for our small meat program. We pay them the utmost respect during the course of their lives as they honor us with the ultimate sacrifice.
Our sheep are a beautiful, important part of our ecosystem that ripples to the wine in your glass, the surrounding properties and beyond.