Holistic approach to vineyard grazing

Grape farming can be simultaneously more profitable, ecologically resilient and socially responsible than the status quo of both conventional and sustainable practices. Through the synergy of human creativity, ecological principles and holistically sound decision making, viticultural practices can be weaned of the majority of off farm inputs and operate primarily by current solar income.

Spiraling increases in fuel, equipment, labor and fertilizer costs, along with the associated negative impacts to our environment by many of these practices make it imperative for us to find innovative and viable solutions for sustaining agriculture.

Advancing the economic viability and ecological integrity of viticulture will increasingly necessitate the presence and impact of properly managed grazing animals during the growing season of both the cover crop and the vines themselves. Proven stratigies exist to allow grazing throughout the year in many established vineyards and effective solutions have evolved for designing new vineyards conducive to  holistically-based management.

The Synergy of Sheep

Results from a 2009 trial conducted in the Alexander Valley demonstrate that managed grazing of sheep in a vineyard through winter, spring and early summer can lead to the following benefits:

  • 80% -90% reduction in irrigation use
  • Eliminates the need to mow or cultivate under vines and between rows due to the grazing activity of  sheep which converts this plant material into fertilizer
  • Eliminates the need for hand suckering due to sheep browsing of this growth and converting it into fertilizer
  • Sheep can consume all canopy thinnings (laterals and leaves) placed on the ground and convert those into manure
  • Improves both yield and quality of fruit
  • Reduces reliance on and cost of machinery, fuels, fertilizers, hand labor and herbicides
  • Improves soils ability to sequester carbon
  • Reduces atmospheric carbon emissions

Kelly Mulville

(707) 431-8060