Halter Ranch Begins Converting Vineyard for Year-Round Sheep Grazing

Step 1  involves 75 acres if Cabernet Sauvignon and Picpoul Blanc grapevines being planted to a trellis and irrigation system.  With the addition of 75 acres, Halter Ranch will begin retrofitting its existing 200-acre trellis system. When complete, the 275-acre estate vineyard will be the first of its size to allow year-round sheep grazing.

Although grazing sheep in vineyards has been around for centuries, sheep seldom graze during the growing season. The pattern is destructive to the traditional vineyard because most trellis systems set the cordon height between 26 and 36 inches from the ground putting new growth at the perfect height for consumption by sheep. Only a handful of pioneering, small-scale vineyards graze sheep at a cordon height of or above 60 inches.

The new and modified trellis system at Halter Ranch will set the cordon height at 60 inches. The drip irrigation line will sit at 36 inches, allowing the sheep to move freely throughout the vineyards.

"There are huge benefits to grazing sheep in the vineyard. As an organic farmer, Halter Ranch does not use harmful chemicals for weed control. Today 150 sheep control the weeds. When they eat, they fertilize the soil," says Winemaker Kevin Sass. "However, we can only graze sheep for four months, so we are adjusting our trellis and cordon heights to receive the added benefits of sheep grazing year-round. Plus, the increased trellis heights reduce the solar radiation and heat impact on the grapes, which we believe is a necessary adjustment for the future."