Surprisingly, the job position of ‘shepherd’ is coming back into vogue. That is because more and more wineries are starting to graze sheep in their vineyards as part of sustainable, organic, and regenerative farming practices. All of these practices are better for the environment, and the sheep serve the dual purpose of providing weed control and natural fertilizer.
However, at La Crema Winery in Sonoma County, they have gone one step further, in that the sheep also serve as a tourist attraction, along with a flock of chickens who also live in the vineyard. Both groups of animals are part of a new vineyard sustainability tour to teach visitors about regenerative farming. The added ‘good news’ is that it is contributing to the financial bottom line.
“Our new sustainability tour, called Best of the Vines, is the most profound wine tourism experience I’ve ever witnessed,” said Katie Hughes, La Crema Sustainability Host. “It really seems to make people wake up and be happy. They love seeing the sheep and feeding the chickens in the vineyard. After the tour, almost everybody joins our wine club.”
And since wine clubs are one of the most profitable channels for repeated wine sales, this is an unexpected positive outcome for La Crema.
Recently I visited La Crema winery, where I toured their famous Saralee’s Vineyard in the Russian River Valley AVA to see the sheep and chickens, and learn more about their new regenerative farming practices and research. While there I met Katie Hughes, the Sustainability Tour Host, and Alexander Everson, who serves as Sustainability Analyst for the company.
The Special Sheep That Dislike Grapes
“We own 170 sheep, 3 sheep dogs, 100 chickens and 5 roosters, who are part of our regenerative farming program,” explained Alexander Everson, Sustainability Analyst with La Crema.
The sheep are a special breed called Dorper sheep, and are originally from South Africa. One reason they can live in a vineyard year-round is because they dislike eating grapes, which many other sheep and animals enjoy eating. This makes them ideal as ‘vineyard weed control workers.’
The ‘shepherd’ service is provided by local firm, Sonoma Dorpers, who work with the three dogs (named Pecas and Oso, both Great Pyrenees, and Ice Man, who is half Akbash and half Anotolian) to herd the sheep. Each morning and evening, the sheep are moved from the barn to different parts of the vineyard to eat the grass and weeds underneath the grape vines, and provide their beneficial natural fertilizer.
La Crema winery decided to invest in their own flock of sheep instead of ‘renting sheep’ to work in the vineyards – yes, this is a legit type of business (see Wooly Weeders as an example). However, they occasionally lend their sheep out to tend the vineyards of other Jackson Family wineries (La Crema is part of the portfolio of wineries owned by Jackson Family Wines).
How La Crema Teaches Visitors About Regenerative Farming
During the 2-hour tour, visitors are welcomed with a glass of La Crema wine and then invited to board a small golf cart type vehicle. Next they tour the vineyard to learn about regenerative farming.
Along the way, they stop to walk through the vineyards, view massive compost piles, get up close to the sheep, and have the opportunity to feed freeze-dried meal worms to the chickens in the vineyard. Back at the winery, they conclude the tour by sampling more wine. The tour costs $95 per person, and is held twice a day.
“Not everyone on the tour wants to touch the freeze dried worms, but many people think it is fun,” reported Katie Hughes. “However, everyone seems to be quite interested in learning about regenerative farming and tasting the wine.”
According to Regeneration International, “regenerative agriculture describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity.”
In practice, it incorporates sustainable and organic farming practices, such as using cover crops and compost, but also includes animals to help control weeds, bugs, and provide natural fertilizer. Another important aspect of regenerative farming is that it advocates no or very low tilling of the soil to ensure that CO2 emissions are sequestered in the ground and not released into the atmosphere.
At La Crema they have received a federal grant and are working with 3 universities (UC-Davis, UC-Berkeley and Skidmore) to analyze how using the three major components of regenerative farming – cover crop, composting and no tillage – impact soil health and quality.
“We have set up experiments using the three major components and are alternating them across 60 acres,” explained Alexander Everson. “Therefore, one row of vines might be no tillage, no compost and no cover crop, whereas another one might be all three, and another one would be a different combination. Then we measure the resulting soil health, and grape and wine quality.”
La Crema specializes in over 20 different chardonnay and pinot noir wines from Saralee’s Vineyard and other locations, but also makes sparkling, rosé, sauvignon blanc, marsanne/roussanne, and gamay wine. Prices range from $20 to $100 per bottle, depending on the vineyard and winemaking.
Benefits of Regenerative Farming
When asked about the cost savings of farming in this manner, Everson replied, “So far we have discovered that the extra cost of doing regenerative farming pretty much balances out the cost we were using for mowing and other vineyard applications. So right now, we are pretty much trading one cost for another.”
But even though there may not be any operational cost savings in farming this way, more and more experts are suggesting that eco-friendly vineyard practices, such as regenerative farming, make wine taste better.
Plus the benefit to the environment, with lower carbon emissions from no tilling and fewer tractors passing through the vineyard, can be huge. According to the Rodale Institute, “shifting both crop and pasture management globally to regenerative systems could drawdown more than 100% of annual CO2 emissions.”
Indeed, regenerative farming has become so important to Jackson Family Wines that they have set a company goal to transition 100% of their estate vineyards to regenerative farming by 2030, as part of their ‘Rooted for Good’ initiative.
But at La Crema, there appears to be another unexpected benefit – free public relations. “People really enjoy taking selfies with the sheep,” reported Katie Hughes, with a huge grin.
Denial of responsibility! galaxyconcerns is an automatic aggregator around the global media. All the content are available free on Internet. We have just arranged it in one platform for educational purpose only. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials on our website, please contact us by email – [email protected]. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.