Published: 1 years 202 days ago
High in the mountains above Clear Lake, California, Clay Shannon discovered land with a wild natural beauty, steep windswept slopes, and brick-red volcanic soil. He recognized the area’s great wine growing potential and decided to put down roots – his family’s and his vines’. The views from atop Shannon Ridge, looming over California’s largest freshwater lake in one direction and miles of untouched mountains in the other, take one’s breath away.
Much of the ground is steep, with slopes well over 25 percent, so Shannon is vigilant about preventing erosion.
“We have something we call ‘erosion patrol,’ especially in late fall with the first rains,” he explained. “Our crews are on patrol checking for trouble spots and ensuring water doesn’t accumulate. We plant a deep-rooted cover crop and we apply hay to the vulnerable areas every year. As long as you don’t compact the soil and you grow good cover crops, you just don’t have the runoff.” He estimates his annual cost of erosion control at $50 to $100 per acre.
Shannon believes that a big part of growing winegrapes sustainably is recognizing the value of his employees. “Our vineyard manager, Celestino Castaneda, has young children who will want to go to college,” Shannon said. “We aim to help him make that happen.” Sustainability is about feeding families in America and keeping people employed, he said. “We have about 200 employees, and they work really hard. We pay them every week and we think it’s important to thank them for what they do.”
There’s one workforce on in Shannon’s vineyards, however, that doesn’t get a paycheck. They are sheep. “We’re using sheep for weed control, and recently we started letting them nibble away at the vines instead of having employees pull the leaves. We have to keep an eye on the sheep so they don’t get carried away and cause sunburn or damage the grapes, but they’re a lot less destructive than goats, which will eat everything.” Thanks to his daughter, each of the sheep has a name. She bottle-fed and raised about 25 orphaned sheep that now roam the vineyards mowing weeds and trimming the canopy.