Bear eating pinot noir grapes at Navarro Vineyards caught on video

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A Mendocino County vineyard has gotten the help of an unusual taste-tester, and his palate is quite discriminating.

A black bear has been sauntering in and out of Navarro Vineyards’ 40 acres of grapes for years, the owners say. He’s left plenty of reminders of his late-night visits: paw prints, empty vines and scat, making his refined diet quite evident.

But this summer, the Philo, Calif., vineyard — about 70 miles north of Santa Rosa — captured the bear’s visit on security cameras for the first time.

Video shows the big animal making his rounds and stopping to munch on the vines.

And the picky bear wasn’t selecting just any grapes. He eats only pinot noir grapes — despite the fact that Navarro Vineyards grows eight varieties — gently pulling the fruit from the vine with his lips, said Aaron Bennett, co-owner of the family business.

“He will go for the premium fruit,” Bennett said. “I’m glad he likes the most expensive wine we grow, but it’s a drop in the bucket for us. We’re glad to have him around.”

The bear may be drawn to the pinot grapes because they are grown in a remote part of the vineyard that is at a higher elevation. Or his selection may be because the grapes are dark and black and easy to identify. Perhaps he just has good taste, Bennett said.

Agricultural architects have suggested adding “bear ladders,” fences for the vineyard made especially to welcome bears and promote a natural ecosystem.

After all, “the bear’s gonna go where the bear wants to go,” Bennett said.

The owners had previously installed cameras to capture their midnight snacker but didn’t have much luck until this year. Once they caught the bear on video, Bennett and his family posted a compilation of vineyard visits from the bear and other animals to share on Facebook.

The family business prides itself on its transparency and relationships with customers, and that includes sharing how they live in harmony with nature, Bennett said. The family’s Facebook videos have garnered more than 10,000 views.

Bennett said he expects the bear will be back a few more times before harvest season begins next month and the crew’s tractors and bright lights scare off any nearby animals.

“We’ll hope he’ll keep coming back every year.”

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