On May 18, Shelburne Vineyard welcomed five Suffolk sheep from Greylaine Farm in Charlotte to graze under their vines to their hearts’ content. The project, titled “Feasibility of Integrating Sheep into Vermont Vineyards: An Initial Look at Ecologic and Economic Benefits,” is the first collaboration of its kind in New England.
Thanks to a grant from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, vineyard winegrower Ethan Joseph and shepherd Mike Kirk are able to fulfill this longtime dream of theirs. They both attended the Univeristy of Vermont and had hopes of bringing their separate passions – wine and animals – together. Inspired by UVM assistant professor Meredith Niles, who has done extensive research on the integration of sheep into the vineyards of New Zealand, the duo applied for the grant, along with UVM Extension Research Associate Juan Alvez.
“This is an experiment,” says Joseph. “No one’s done this before in our climate or utilizing our training system, but Mike and Marion know sheep and my team and I know grapes. We feel good about it and I’m psyched we are finally making it happen.”
Joseph predicts many benefits for the vineyard, including adding diversity, increasing soil health, reducing mowing needs and providing a pleasant attraction for staff and visitors alike.
There was much anticipation as the farmers and vineyard staff readjusted the fencing and made sure everything was just right for the Suffolks to make their grand entrance, but the moment when the truck doors finally opened was worth the wait. The sheep joyfully leaped out and sprinted toward the dandelion-dotted vine pasture that they will call home until the shoots grow long enough for them to eat.