Vineyard-Crashing Bear Finds Bearings, Pinot Pairings

Navarro Vineyards in the Anderson Valley has found itself host to a persistent, opportunistic new visitor—with excellent taste in grapes

Vineyard-Crashing Bear Finds Bearings, Pinot Pairings
The vineyard bear gets midnight munchies (right) and clears his plate (aftermath, left). (Courtesy of Navarro Vineyards)
Oct 4, 2019

One of Navarro Vineyards' prized parcels is surrounded by a fence that lets bears in. "The vineyard manager had suggested the idea of 'bear ladders' at each gate crossing on the basis that a bear is going to go where a bear wants to go," the California winery's co-owner Aaron Bennett explained to Unfiltered via email. "It's better for us to subscribe to the mentality of 'one for nature, one for us.' Our payment for use of their land." Earlier this week, one ursine visitor decided to cash that check, and took its payment in Pinot Noir.

The Anderson Valley bearroir is particularly suitable to Ursus americanus, and this black bear has taken a liking to the area where some of Navarro's remote, high-elevation Pinot blocks reside. Black bears are foragers, and especially in the summer, they forage for berries—and what better berries than carefully tended rows of primo Mendocino Pinot?

Bennett estimates that bears get about a 1% cut of the crop, "a number we're so-far comfortable with." The bear and the winemakers share a fondness for the specific location, the Marking Corral Vineyard, though perhaps for different reasons: "The bear loves the location because it's very remote. We love it because it's above the valley fog and settling frost."

While wildlife management is part of grapegrowing, anti-bear measures tend to be cost- and effort-prohibitive. And Navarro is hardly alone in the philosophy that in winemaking, nature happens—as we saw last month at South Africa's Groot Constantia, with its baboon buddies.

Vineyard bear
The gate that keeps bears (in and) out (Courtesy of Navarro Vineyards)

As for what the bear pairs with its Pinot, Bennett observed "a ripe apple, Italian plums, and occasionally a pumpkin. His primary food source from late August through October has been Pinot Noir. I took a video last night of him plopping down in front of a vine to (presumably) eat his fill. After all, what sort of uncivilized animal eats standing up?"


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Unfiltered Oddities Vineyard Pests Pinot Noir

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