California's Navarro Vineyards has a hungry repeat visitor.

By Mike Pomranz
September 26, 2019

Needless to say, California is extremely well-known for its wine. But the state is also well-known for its bears. Even the state flag features a grizzly bear. With that in mind, this story is about as California as it gets: A winery in the Anderson Valley recently shared video footage on Facebook showing a bear chowing down on some of their Pinot Noir grapes—a viniculture issue many of us probably haven’t considered before.

Ralph Clevenger/Getty Images

While some vineyards have to worry about disease or weather fluctuations, Navarro Vineyards, located in Mendocino County, has their eye on a bear with an interest in something a bit more refined than picnic baskets. “Navarro's taste-tester is back to ‘get it when the gettin' is good,’” the winery wrote on Facebook. “As we're continuing our harvest, our nighttime friend continues to munch on Pinot Noir from our high-elevation vineyards. We'll be ready to harvest these grapes in the next few weeks, so hopefully this big guy leaves some for us.” With Navarro’s Pinots running about $35 per bottle, you can see why they might be concerned.

Watch the video below:

Though the most recent video is from a couple weeks ago—and the bear was previously filmed in August—Aaron Bennett, a second-generation co-owner of the vineyard, told the Sacramento Bee that bears eating their grapes isn’t uncommon. “We’ve been with the bears for years, every fall eating apples and grapes,” he said. In fact, the vineyard reportedly makes the vineyard bear-accessible with ladders. (Though the vineyard has been around since 1974, the bears were probably here first.) In all, Bennett says they’ve spotted a full family of bears this year: grape-testing dad, mom, and their baby cub.

"We designed our vineyards to minimize the impact on the native ecosystem," Bennett told me via email. "This is the second year we've captured video. Bears (and mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, etc) have been frequent visitors to our vineyard, especially our high-elevation sites that are most remote. And so far, we don't really consider it a problem... We have approximately 40 acres (54,000 vines) of these high-elevation vineyard, and the bear probably can clean out a good 300 to 400 by my estimation. Considering that damage by birds and rodents could probably be higher than 0.7 percent, we are very appreciative of these larger animals for keeping the smaller ones under control."

Bennett also explained that though their video has garnered plenty of interest, they aren't alone in dealing with these issues. "Pests are common, and I know that local farmers and homesteaders have had to manage to coexist with bears in particular," he continued. "Unfortunately we see too many stories of when this goes wrong and the harmony is broken. I can understand the perspective of someone seeing some of their crop picked clean feeling a violation of their work, but I would imagine bears are a (relatively) rare occurrence and likely are a very small percentage of crop loss industry-wide."

Meanwhile, Navarro has been using the popular bear footage to promote selections from the vineyard’s large array of wines (which we’ve previously mentioned among the best in California), as well as using it to remind people on Facebook that they offer complimentary vineyard and winery tours twice each day. However, they do clarify “we can't guarantee a bear sighting.” That’s probably for the best: I don’t think it’s a good idea to come between a bear and his Pinot Noir.

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