Winery Employs Latest (and
Cutest) Eco-Trend: Mini Sheep
From original article by Susan C. Schena
After a 10-year, $30-million revitalization, Concannon Vineyard has plenty of "green" accomplishments to tout at this weekend's Earth Day Celebration. But it may be the flock of tiny, grass-eating sheep that steals the show. On loan from a Livermore ranch, the 15 sheep, officially called Olde English Babydoll Southdowns, stand 17 inches to 24 inches high and are used to clear the grounds and underbrush at the winery's vineyards.
The wee woolies provide chemical-free weed control, hoof-powered tilling, and free "fertilizer" in the vineyards, perks aligned with Concannon's organic efforts. "They're ultra organic," said owner Allison Batteate of her sheep. "They're the most 'sustainable' thing out there. There's no tractor up and down the rows burning fossils fuels," added Batteate, who leases her Babydolls to area wineries looking to "green" their growing practices.
For Concannon, the sheep are part of the winery's push to reduce its carbon footprint and achieve organic-farmer status, attributes to be showcased as the winery marks Earth Day. During its decade-long makeover, Concannon kept conservation on the forefront while capitalizing on such technology as a solar-powered revamp of its production facilities. Concannon's "green" drive is not a marketing gimmick or cost-cutting strategy, said John Concannon, fourth-generation vintner and great-grandson of the winery's founder. On the contrary, he said, "It's very expensive to be friendly to Mother Nature." Concannon wants his 128-year-old family business to take the industry lead in sustainability. "It's part of our vision," he said.
A few months ago, the winery was classified a California Certified Organic Farmer, meaning its methods passed ecological muster in such areas as natural pest and weed management and pollution control. Some 2010 wines can now carry the CCOF label "made with organic grapes." Concannon Vineyard also earned certification in 2009 from the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance for its environmental stewardship and natural resource conservation.
Using the weed-eating Babydolls is a first for the winery, and John Concannon was particularly bemused to see the flock arrive chaperoned by guard dogs. "These two dogs have been with the sheep since birth," he said. Bonnie, and Anatolian-Akbash mix, and Belle, an Akbash, accompany the Babydolls everywhere to ward off predators, said Batteate, who began raising the mini sheep last year at her family's Livermore cattle business, Batteate Ranch. The dogs were placed as puppies into the pen with the lambs, she said.
Modeling her business after a similar operation in Nape, Batteate said the Babydolls are ideal for weed-control work in vineyards or orchards. While low to the ground, the sheep weigh 95 pounds. That stockiness keeps them from climbing or reaching and eating grapevines as goats or traditional-sized sheep would, she said. Barely two feet high when fully grown, Babydolls easily pass under vineyards' irrigation drip lines as well, she added.
The Babydolls will have nearly completed their weed-eating assignment and will be moving on from Concannon at the end of April
Further information on the winery's activities is available at http://www.concannonvineyard.com