How Clay Shannon Vineyards is Saving the Ecosystem with Wine

How Clay Shannon Vineyards is Saving the Ecosystem with Wine

Published April 2023

During my career at ABC, I’ve heard whispers of a unique sustainability practice Shannon Vineyards created. My interest was peaked, so I packed a bag and headed to California with a team of ABC Wine Experts to learn what the buzz was about.

It was late at night when the ABC team arrived at Shannon Vineyards. Even through the cover of night, I could see the rolling hills and acres of winding vineyards that sprawled across the landscape. I went to bed that night excited to wake up and see the property in the daylight.

Clay Shannong Group

Upon stepping out of the Ogulin Estate on Home Ranch (a home on the property overlooking the vineyard) in the morning light, I couldn’t have imagined the natural splendor before us.

We sat perched atop a hill overlooking a gleaming lake and the seemingly endless rows of vines, punctuated by a dormant volcano lounging across the horizon line. I immediately understood that this was one of those rare places where man and nature cohabitated in a symbiotic relationship, neither one overpowering or disrespecting the other.

Clay Shannon Vineyard

That day we were met by Joy Merrilees, VP of Production, who showed us the ins and outs of harvesting grapes from the vineyard, crushing them for fermentation and transforming juice into wine. It was beyond fascinating to learn how wines are produced from grape to glass, but the real meat and potatoes of Shannon Vineyards’ unique operations would come the next day.

We set out with Clay Shannon, owner and founder of Shannon Vineyards, into the vineyard in the morning to learn about their holistic farming practices. Shannon Vineyards is 100% Certified Sustainable, and that’s all thanks to Project Ovis. Ovis is Latin for sheep, and those woolly white creatures play an important part in the farming and viniculture practices of the Shannon brand along with a whole host of other animals.

Project Ovis works a little something like this: the vineyard keeps a flock of sheep that grazes on the excess vegetation around the vineyards and fertilizes the soil with its manure. Border Collies and Great Pyrenees sheepdogs (yes, I got to pet them) who patrol the property guard the sheep from bears and other natural predators. As an alternative to pesticides, bat and owl boxes are stationed throughout the vineyards so these aerial hunters can eliminate pests. Thanks to the absence of pesticide and herbicide, earthworms in the soil can feast on the organic matter in the soil and excrete more beneficial nutrients into the soil. Legumes and flowering cover crops are planted in between vine rows to attract more beneficial insects. The legumes harvest the air we breathe and use it to release more nutrients into the soil. Finally, chickens roam the vineyards to add macronutrients like calcium, phosphorus and potassium into the soil for other organisms to feast on.

Clay Shannon Vineyard Sheep Image Source:

This is the closed-loop agricultural system that Shannon Vineyards has spent years building. Nothing is taken from the environment, and nothing artificial is brought in. One organism’s byproduct becomes another organism’s lifeblood, and this harmonious cycle continues.

Their operations are both holistic and dynamic, combining carbon sequestering practices with permaculture initiatives and energy efficiency applications to create a truly earth-first approach to winemaking. And I mean it when I say that this process only scratches the surface of all the many measures the Shannon team has taken to reduce their impact on the environment. It would take me longer than this article allows to name every effort, every step they’ve taken to battle climate change.

Despite lower crop yields than other competing wineries, the proof is truly in the pudding with the Shannon Family of Wines. Their products have received countless 90+ ratings from trusted wine rating sources like Wine Enthusiast, James Suckling and Wine Spectator. The region’s volcanic soils produce full, rich flavors and the long, warm California days ripen the grapes to perfection.

We spent one more day at the vineyard, then headed back to the airport, leaving the vineyard and all its lushness and quiet determination to build a better world in the rearview mirror.

Now, whenever I see a Shannon brand wine on our shelves, I think of how thrilling it is to be able to sip such a celebrated label from the other side of the country. Every bottle at an ABC Fine Wine & Spirits tells a story, and I’m lucky I got to experience the Shannon story where it all started. Theirs is one of rebellion, innovation and absolute pride that you can taste in every sip.

Interested in learning more about Shannon Vineyards? Check out their website here or browse their wines available at ABC Fine Wine & Spirits stores in Florida here.

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