Jackson Family Wines
Diversifying the Vineyard With Sheep
By Sarah Doyle
A flock of 40 sheep have arrived at Saralee’s and Fulton Vineyards in Sonoma County, and they couldn’t be any cuter. Their arrival is part of a five-year study in partnership with UC Davis on the effects of grazing in the vineyard with a focus on soil health and regenerative farming practices.
Managed by Director of Farming Shaun Kajiwara and VP of Vineyard Operations Tony Viramontes, the flock is made up of Dorper sheep, which are smaller and stockier than other breeds. Known for their meat, they don’t pose a large threat to vineyard trellises.
As part of a concept called mob grazing, the sheep are allowed to graze in different areas of the vineyard each day, which replaces the need for heavy tractors that compact the soil. Soil compaction can hinder the growth of the grapevines and cover crops. Sheep also take the place of herbicides and provide organic matter to the soil via their natural manure.
“As part of the company’s commitment to regenerative farming, we are looking at each vineyard site as a whole ecosystem,” says Shaun. “By increasing biodiversity in and around our vineyards through the introduction of sheep, increasing the diversity of our cover crops, and adding compost to our soil, we are forging a path to a more balanced ecosystem.”
With the addition of three rams, Shaun expects to welcome the flock’s first lambs this fall. In the winter, the sheep will move to higher ground sites in the Russian River and AME.