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iN WINE: Grazers for hire — sheep in the wine industry

The Baaa-essler vineyard crew at Corcelettes Estate Winery in Keremeos
The Baaa-essler vineyard crew at Corcelettes Estate Winery in Keremeos

Baa baa black sheep have you any…um, grapes?

Yes, you read correctly. Sheep are becoming more and more popular vineyard employees for our sustainably focussed BC wineries, and I say, yes, please!

In countries like New Zealand, sheep roaming on vineyards is a very common sight. Wineries like Jeff Martin at La Frenz Winery in Naramata had animal employees years ago. Jeff has always focussed on a full circle philosophy of farming his land, and that included furry and feathered employees helping to keep pests at bay, mowing and fertilizing the vineyard.
Sea Star Vineyards on Pender Island also has a crew of insanely cute, teddy bear faced Babydoll sheep (I kid you not!) They are listed on the website as the maintenance crew along with dapper winery dog Hudson as the supervisor.

Corcelettes Winery in Keremeos has also joined this movement. Owners Jesce and Charlie Baessler and their twin girls Arya and Evelyn (the cutest little farm girls you will ever see) love their new sheep (ladies).

Jesce explains, “With pea size grapes it’s the perfect time to have the ladies out as they have little interest in anything other than low-lying leaves, weeds and grass. They not only weed and fertilize the vineyard, but they’re also assisting with necessary leaf removal. Just another cool thing on our farm that makes Corcelettes unique.”

Little Arya Baessler nurses her new little friend Susie Sheep.
Little Arya Baessler nurses her new little friend Susie Sheep.

Corcelettes currently has four ewes and seven lambs on their Baessler vineyard crew, with foreman Schaze the German Shepard overseeing all.

Jesce explains, “We have actually had them for a couple of years now, but we kept them at our friend's farm not too far away, just until we had a proper shelter, pasture and fence built for them. Charlie had wanted sheep in the vineyard since as long as I can remember, I think he's always wanted to blend his more agricultural background with his viticulture- and this seems like perfect harmony. Our ladies are the Katahdin Dorper breed, which doesn't have wool but instead have hair that they shed on their own, meaning we never have to sheer them (bonus). We let them loose in the vineyard twice a day right now and they're doing an amazing job of "mowing", leaf thinning the vines, and fertilizing of course. Amazingly, they leave the grapes completely alone. Of course, the grapes are very small and green right now so they're not very tempting. During harvest, they'll live back in their pasture.”

And what a view they have from that pasture! Corcelettes Estate Winery is a must visit with award-winning wines and some of the most glorious views you can imagine in the dramatic Similkameen wine valley. Make sure to high-five the sheep for the great job they are doing.

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