Does wildlife = great wine?

I have a client who recently mounted a game camera on a tree in a part of his vineyard surrounded by forest. Every night it was entertaining to download the photos and see a parade of wildlife (with the occasional human waving as they went by): a skunk, a squirrel, different members of a deer family, some tiny creatures who were big enough to activate the camera but slipped away before being recorded.

Bear September 2018.jpg

Then came the big surprise: bears. A big one, then a smaller one, hard to tell how many there were, or if it was the same ones meandering back by.

Next came a debate: to ‘bare’ the bear news to visitors at the winery or on the winery website.

No hesitation on the part of the guy who’d planted these vineyards 48 years ago and walks them every day. It’s nature, it’s natural, seeing the wildlife—bear or no bear. The bear is a crucial part of the habitat, of growing great grapes which have a Story. The angle of the sun on the vines, the way the vineyards are configured to cover the land, where the dirt changes, what thrives in the shade of some ancient redwoods—no question that the presence of a bear validates that this wine comes from a real place. We won’t even use the word terroir.

Or: is there something to be concerned about? Not that these bears would ever amble across the crush pad almost a mile away. A touch of the wild. A sense of something scary. Something very real. Danger. One variable of many in the life of a farmer, not something that the end user should have to contemplate, much less see. Better not to go there.

Everything in our existence is marketed, right? Down to fanciful wine labels which may or may not have any relevance to a certain piece of dirt. Lots and lots of artful labels and “narratives,” packaging wine to live up to the paper on the bottle. The wine industry is horribly afraid of bad news, of anything that might shadow the mystique—whether that’s the impact of smoke taint or bad weather or other farming issues which don’t easily synchronize with a list of marketing objectives. You might even say the fear of bad news is the backbone of the wine industry….

Yet. I believe there are wine aficionados out there who are searching for wines which reference a particular plot of land, wildlife or no wildlife, clever label or not. After all, what does “authentic” mean if the context isn’t complicated? And part of that complication is being truthful and honest; if you’re “the real deal,” there aren’t any secrets or mystery-man-behind-the-curtain.

Back to the bear cam: my recommendation was to share the news of the bear with customers and visitors. The bear or bears are thriving in a forested part of a vineyard estate where they are happy and not bothering anyone. Lesson? Take advantage of any news to tell your story that much better, with more nuance and richness of detail and imagery. Go bears!

Speaking of which, who knew so many people are intrigued enough by bears to name their wineries after them?

7 thoughts on “Does wildlife = great wine?

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  2. 44 years in my 150 acre vineyard. Bears eat up to tons each year. Fixes have been changing with law changes. PR for the winery means “hush” if the bears are harmed. Management is quite complicated and evolving. Thanks that it is not feral pigs.

  3. You can add Oso Libre (Free Bear) in Paso Robles.
    Our local black bear ran into my car as I was driving early morning to a pick about a week ago. Bent fender for me, and an annoyed bear that ran off into the dark.