I first saw a video of how Shannon Ridge Wines raise sheep to sustainably manage their vineyards, rotating the sheep from vineyard to vineyard to control cover crop growth and naturally fertilize the land. I was intrigued.
Visiting the Lake County winery and meeting vintner/rancher Clay Shannon underscored the responsibility he feels to protect and maintain the historical vineyard hills of Shannon Ranch planted to Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel.
On the main Shannon Ranch, where Eastern European immigrants planted grapes over 100 years ago, Clay was prepping for harvest so the sheep grazed on a recently picked vineyard a few miles away. The sheep love grapes, you see, so they can’t graze near ripe fruit because they’d simply eat the crop. But, bring them in while grapes are ripening and they’ll happily eat grape leaves and thin the canopy for better sun exposure.
Clay Shannon has trademarked his approach as the Ovis Cycle, The Ultimate Sustainable Farming System. After harvest, the sheep clean up the fallen grapes and other MOG (material other than grapes) and fertilize away as they roam, all naturally. They leave the vineyards spotless and the sheep are fat and woolly.
In winter, vines may be dormant but the sheep are lambing and kept warm and protected by the vigilant sheep dogs. In Spring, the wines are budding, the sheep are sheared and the lambs are weaning. They continue weeding and fertilizing. These sheep graze well, live freely, enjoy life and, eventually are consumed as the cycle of life completes.
Shannon Ranch is known for its spectacular naturally-raised lamb, which pairs beautifully with many of the Shannon Ridge wines like the ever popular and well-priced High Elevation Wrangler Red. Grown at 1200-1400 feet it is a staple on many restaurant lists. Also in the High Elevation Brand family is a Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Restaurants in the know serve the Shannon Ranch lamb right along with the wines for a perfect farm to table experience.
As Clay Shannon was discovering the ranch he now calls Shannon Ridge, he found a lot of history both in the winegrowing and in the ranch structures. He unearthed the old winery, complete with old crusher and press, an unknown and still-producing well, a skinning shack and a hand-built stone fence that runs for over a mile.
In the process of unveiling all the ranch’s secrets, Shannon’s greatest discovery was a century-old “Mother Vine” that is still strong today. The many offshoots of this old vine Carignane, probably brought from the old country, are the base of the oldest part of the dry-farmed ranch.
The old skinning shed is now preserved as the Buck Shack Bar for entertaining customers and trade. “Buck Shack” also happens to be the name of Shannon Ridge’s small batch red blend that reflects the finest fruit from Shannon Ranch.
Shannon Ridge farms over 991 planted acres Lake County AVA and the smaller Lake County AVAs of Red Hills, High Valley and Big Valley. Clay Shannon discovered early the beauty of Lake County wines and their potential quality and affordability and steadily acquired vineyards to become the prominent Lake County winery they are today. Nationally distributed, all estate-grown and sustainably farmed by a true caretaker of the land, Shannon Ridge and its family of wines represent excellent value in the market today.