Farming One of the Largest Organic Mountain Grown Vineyards
September 14, 2021
What’s the key to taking a one-thousand-acre mountain vineyard that’s been conventionally farmed and converting it to all-organic farming?
In the case of Shannon Family of Wines, it’s the sheep. “It's really all based around using the sheep to run in the vineyards,” Clay Shannon, CEO and owner, told Wine Business Monthly.
Shannon Family of Wines will be one of the largest certified organic, mountain-grown vineyards in the country by the end of harvest 2021.
They’re calling it Project Ovis, the transformation of a 1,000-acre mountain vineyard in Lake County into a “sustainable, regenerative organic farming system.” The estate itself is about 2,500 acres.
Clay Shannon calls it the reimagining of viticulture and winemaking to address the effects of climate change. He’s been farming the estate vineyard organically for three seasons.
The first step was to stop using conventional herbicides for weed control.
“We just stopped completely,” Shannon said. “We started using sheep.”
The sheep reduced the need to mow by 500 percent and the use of gas-powered weed eaters was nearly eliminated. Sheep are doing mowing, cultivation, weeding, herbicide work, some canopy work, and they leave sheep-powered organic fertilizer on the ground.
They run through the vineyard in groups, ten or fifteen acres at a time, and rotate. Portable electric fencing helps keep them from roaming too far. They move through blocks in groups of 300 to 400.
They will eat grapes if there’s sugar in them and viticulturists raise the fruit zone to get it out of their way. The sheep run in the vineyard after harvest up to budbreak. Then they're back out of the vineyard until green, pea-sized berries develop. Then they return to the vineyard for a month or so prior to version. They come back out at version and don't return until after harvest.
Shannon Family of Wines has nearly a thousand sheep, which equates to a lot of lamb chops. The operation also markets wool and meat, selling grass-fed lamb to local restaurants.
Clay Shannon said Shannon Family of Wines will be applying for regenerative certification next. Other certifications include Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing, Fish Friendly Farming and LODI RULES. Shannon Family of Wines was also the recipient of the 7th Annual Green Medal Environment Award for 2021.
“Our commitment is to an earth-first approach to farming and wine making,” Clay Shannon said.
The Shannon Family of Wines portfolio includes 13 Rams, Buck Shack, Clay Shannon, Giannecchini, High Valley, Mother Vine, Ovis, Shannon Ridge, Steele Wines, and Urgency.