At Oso Libre Winery, they’re growing wine grapes — and sheep and free-range Black Angus cattle, all of them key aspects of the property’s diversified agriculture business.
Chris and Linda Behr purchased the 90-acre Paso Robles property in 1995 and are constantly working to dial in sustainable practices. In addition to gaining Sustainability in Practice certification for the vineyards, Oso Libre also uses renewable energy for all the winery’s electric needs, and a flock of stalwart English Babydoll sheep handles most of the vineyard’s weed abatement and soil maintenance.
The first eight cows came on board in 2003 and “are raised as cow/calf pairs, which is a specific way of ranching,” Behr explained. Today the herd has grown to 36 animals. Each cow is essentially attached, in a sense, to three other animals — the calf she is pregnant with, the calf she’s nursing, and her last year’s “teenager,” which will be harvested for the beef program at about 2 years old.
The cattle are managed as a “closed-herd system,” so every animal living on the ranch, apart from those first eight cows, has been born there. (The only exception is the annual visit by a breeding bull.) During their lifespan, the cattle are rotated in a stress-free manner between nine different paddocks, giving them free access to rangeland grass, creek water and salt licks. They also get the occasional alfalfa hay treat and a mild antibiotic for ticks, but are never given any hormones.
In the final 90 days before the 2-year-old steers head off to become dinner, a grain mixture is added to their diet that includes a daily ration of spent beer hops from a local brewery. As Behr noted, “it’s full of protein and sweetness, as well as 4 percent alcohol. So now the steers are fat, happy, slightly buzzed and I will have only lied to them once!”
After the cattle have been butchered, the meat is dry-aged for 21 days, a process which shrinks the finished product by 25 percent but results in a more concentrated and richer beef flavor. Most of the meat goes to members of Oso Libre’s beef club, but there’s also a refrigerated case of various cuts in the tasting room that’s available for purchase by the public, and the winery hosts “Estate Burger BBQs” throughout the summer ($10/plate, wine-tasting fee not included).
“Our estate Angus program is a cornerstone of Oso Libre,” said Behr, noting that he and Linda run the family winery with their son and daughter-in-law Jeff and Elizabeth Freeland. “The natural movement of the cattle helps the land — the animals live in a symbiotic relationship with it, and therefore everything else thrives as a result. All of us at Oso Libre Winery invite you to come try our vines, wines and Angus!”
Other local meat producers
If you’re looking for some local meat to grill on the Fourth of July or throughout the summer, here are just a few of the other options available in San Luis Obispo County. Some are retail storefronts such as the J&R locations, others are operated by the ranchers themselves as beef clubs, and some* sell individually packaged product at local farmers markets and/or local groceries. Be aware that some of this meat is entirely grass-fed, which means it’s much leaner and will require less cooking time — ask the butchers and ranchers for cooking tips!
J&R Natural Meat & Sausage: 3450 Riverside Ave, Paso Robles, 237-8100; 1131 Rossi Road (by Trader Joe’s), Templeton, 434-5050; jrmeats.com
Adelaida Springs Ranch: adelaidasprings.com
Charter Oak Meats*: charteroak.slo-ag.com
Fair Oaks Ranch: forangus.com/meat-angus.html
Johansing Farms*: johansingfarmsales.com
Nick Ranch*: enjoygrassfedbeef.com
Mighty Nimble Ranch Club: 674-1686, email firstname.lastname@example.org