MENDOCINO COUNTY (KPIX 5) – An Anderson Valley vineyard has become a popular spot for more than just wine connoisseurs. It’s also attracting an unexpected visitor with a taste for Pinot.
Navarro Vineyards stretches for more than 1,000 acres and serves customers from around the world. But after dark, a bear keeps sneaking back in.
“We know it’s a big male. He’s a sizable fellow,” said Aaron Bennett, co-owner of Navarro Vineyards. “We saw a lot of eaten grapes. He’d pluck them right off the vine and they go after the pricey grapes too. They like the Pinot Noir.”
Meghan Walla-Murphy is a wildlife ecologist specializing in bears, and says that bear is not alone.
“What we’re seeing now is these trends of the black bears moving down into greater parts of Sonoma County,” Walla-Murphy said. “If you’re a bear, this is where you want to be. We have grapes, orchards, we have a lot of organic produce. We have livestock, we have honey, we have compost. So its kind of bear mecca.”
The signs are showing up more and more. Game cameras are capturing the bears moving around, giant paw prints have been recorded, and folks are being careful.
“Fortunately, they are pretty shy and they will scoot off pretty fast,” Bennett said.
When asked if the bears are aggressive, Bennett said, “No, and we don’t want them to be. We really maintain a good, healthy safe distance from them, we don’t want to have an encounter.”
Navarro Vineyards says the bears eat about one percent of their crop and says the winery will simply live with that as the price of not harming the bears.
No one knows exactly how many bears are moving south into Sonoma but one thing is clear, the population is growing.
“We want to be really preemptive and proactive in this project so that the bears are safe and the humans are safe, property is safe and that we are really living in coexistence,” Walla-Murphy said.
Navarro Vineyards estimates that last year, the bears ate about $10,000 worth of grapes.