Vineyard - An Idea Worth Trying
What if it were possible to design a vineyard that required very few inputs or human labor, produced good yields of high quality grapes, produced animal protein, improved soil health, sequestered carbon, increased diversity, and made a good financial return? This was the vision presented by holistic management educator and viticulturist, Kelly Mulville, at an EcoFarm presentation in January, 2013. His presentation was based on a trial that he had done in California between 2008 and 2010.
Paicines ranch owner, Sallie Calhoun, was intrigued by the vision and the possibility. In the 1960's vineyards on the ranch were part of what was then the world's largest varietal vineyard in Paicines. Sallie had considered partnering with conventional grape producers on a lease basis, but was not comfortable with the bare ground, erosion, repeated tillage, and spraying common in CA vineyards today. Kelly's vision was something altogether different, and the opportunity to design a vineyard from the beginning to be grazed by sheep year-round as a polyculture growing healthy soil was an idea too compelling to walk away from.
Kelly joined the Paicines Ranch team in early 2014 and began the vineyard design. Design and site prep have continued since then, with soil testing, a light compost application, higher stock density grazing by sheep and cattle, the planting of cover crops, installation of irrigation, and some leveling and ripping on the 25 acre site. The intention is that once the vineyard is planted, most of the work will be done by sheep, and the ground will not be tilled again during the life of the vineyard. The newly designed trellis system will be installed during the winter of 2016-2017 and the first 12.5 acres will be planted in spring of 2017.