Sheep help couple bring sustainability to winery
Editor’s note: This is the second of two articles about Eagles Next Winery in Ramona.
As Dennis and Julie Grimes produce medal-winning wines, they have also adopted measures to bring sustainability to their Eagles Nest Winery.
Although the Ramona residents both work full time—Dennis Grimes as a program manager for the U.S. Department of the Navy and Julie Grimes as a professor teaching Internet programming at Southwestern College—they keep abreast of the latest resources and tools in operating their winery.
One feature they added to their winery as part of their sustainability program not only reduces labor and costs, but provides amusement as well. Four sheep, all referred to as “Babydolls” because they are Olde English Babydoll Southdown sheep, keep the grass cut and the head-pruned vines trimmed.
“They’re going around doing all my labor,” noted Julie.
The three males and one female mow the grass by eating the top layer. They prune the vines up to about 3 feet.
“Whatever they can reach is theirs,” Julie added as the sheep munched on grape leaves.
The sheep are let out of their pen at 9 a.m. and go to bed at 3 p.m. They automatically go “home” when it’s time for bed. Julie said if she isn’t there, they wait for her outside their pen.
The sheep are like pets and are not bothered by the Grimes’ four dogs.
“They don’t like to be separated at all,” she said, adding that the sheep will cry if they lose each other.
The sheep can say the equivalent of three words: “Maaaa” (referring to Julie), “Please” (they want a treat), and a laughing sound that she hasn’t quite figured out yet, but she wonders if they are laughing at her.
The Grimeses have reviewed and adopted practices from the Wine Institute Sustainable Winegrowing Program, which provides a 14-chapter workbook that translates the sustainability principles into specific winegrowing and winemaking practices. The Wine Institute defines these practices as being sensitive to the environment, responsive to the needs and interests of society-at-large, and economically feasible to implement and maintain.
To minimize the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, they have a worm farm. The primarily red worms feed on organic horse manure.
“The worms eat the manure and then they convert it into what is called worm castings, which is kind of a rich, soil-like fertilizer directly mixed with the soil or you can make a worm casting tea,” said Dennis.
He showed how a nylon was filled with the worm casting mixture and left soaking in water to create the tea that can be used to spray on the leaves of the vines to provide nutrients and discourage disease.
“We’re doing the organic thing because it makes sense,” Dennis said.
Grape stems, pumice and prunings are all mulched and used on the property. To cut down on energy usage, they have a solar panel. They also have a well and use drip irrigation to water the vines for minimal water use.
“Drip irrigation is all part of sustainability or minimizing water usage,” said Dennis. “It’s a nice option to control the quality of the fruit.”
Keeping the wine cool, at about 59 degrees, also contributes to quality wine, as does maintaining sanitary wine-making equipment, Dennis said. He accomplishes this by using stainless steel equipment and a steam cleaner to keep the equipment sanitized.
The winery is named Eagles Nest for several reasons: Golden eagles nested nearby, Dennis is an Eagle Scout and he also flew in the Navy, and the vacation cottage at the winery has a deck with a commanding view of the Ramona Valley, Ramona Grasslands, and Ramona Airport.
While some of the grapes grow on a vertical shoot trellis system, other vines are head pruned/trained and act as useful landscape features dotting the hillsides and lining the long driveway up to the Grimes’ cottage and house. The cottage was built right among many of the massive boulders scattered about the property.
“People say this place exudes a positive energy,” said Dennis.
Set up for vacationing couples, the cottage is outfitted with antique furnishings, a wood-burning stove, a whirlpool tub and wine-themed décor. Outside is a wood-burning pizza oven that Dennis built.
The kitchen, with barstools lined around a granite-topped island, and with an 8-foot temperature-controlled cabinet that holds 84 cases of wine, will be the tasting room when and if the county’s winery ordinance is approved. Eventually Dennis and Julie plan to build a separate tasting room.
Well aware of winery ordinance opponents who comment about drinking and driving, the couple have plans to make sure this is not a problem.
Julie said she would like people to sit, enjoy the views and the serenity, and have a snack, such as cheese and crackers, while sampling the wine. She is thinking of offering each customer a free bottle of water that could serve to cut down the alcohol, along with cleansing the palate while tasting the wine samples.
The Grimeses visit many boutique wineries and know the tasting rooms help business. They currently sell their wines online at their website, www.eaglesnestwinery.com.
The Internet has been a powerful marketing tool for them. By using social media such Facebook, Twitter and blogs, they have attracted a lot of interest in their winery. Julie said they have almost 33,000 followers on Twitter.
Their blogs have attracted people from other parts of the world, including Germany, Spain and Australia. Dennis was even invited to speak at a wine bloggers’ conference. Their blogging topics have included wine history, wine humor, appetizer recipes, tips on visiting wineries, their Babydoll sheep and, of course, their award-winning wines.
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