Ewe must be joking! Sheep in the vineyard?

Tue Oct 27, 2009 1:11pm EDT
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By Leslie Gevirtz

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Some vineyards in New Zealand and California are milking sheep for all they're worth.

"Well, they are mini-sheep really. Their proper name is Babydoll sheep," New Zealand vintner Peter Yealands explained in a telephone interview.

"They're a very rare breed, but an old one."

Yealands had to jump through a number of bureaucratic hoops just to get 10 of the Babydolls from Australia to his vineyards in New Zealand's Marlborough region. Wool is his country's leading export, so why import more sheep?

But Babydolls aren't just any sheep, and Yealands was looking for an environmentally friendly way of keeping his 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) of vines properly maintained during the growing season.

"It's common practice to have normal size sheep - Merino is what we use - to come to the vineyards during the winter when the vines are dormant," he said.

The results are a well-fed flock for the shepherd and a clean vineyard for the vintner. But once the weather warms and the vines begin to bud, the Merinos are banished.

"Let's just say they find grape leaves quite tasty," the 61-year-old vintner explained.   Continued...

<p>A flock of Babydoll sheep graze at the Navarro Vineyards and Winery in Mendicino, California, in an undated photo. REUTERS/Terry McCarthy/Navarro Vineyards/Handout</p>