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Late harvest, hungry bears hit Oregon vintners

Sun., Oct. 24, 2010, midnight

MEDFORD, Ore. – The delay in the Oregon wine grape harvest caused by a wet spring and mild summer has given hungry birds and animals a chance to plunder vineyards in the Rogue Valley.

At Weisinger’s of Ashland, starlings and cowbirds have picked away at the grapes while trail cameras have recorded a nocturnal parade of black bears rummaging through the vineyard.

“There’s been a skinny one, a medium-sized one and a great-big daddy,” owner John Weisinger told the Mail Tribune. “I’ve got three photos of one looking left, looking right and then right at the camera. They’ve mostly been in the gewurztraminer.”

General Manager Robert Trottmann says the birds have arrived by the hundreds, maybe the thousands, plucking away the gewurztraminer, along with the pinot noir and tempranillo grapes.

“We’ve put up netting, but they’ve made a huge impact,” Trottman said.

“Starlings and robins are the most devastating,” said Rex Garoutte at Rosella’s Vineyard. “If you leave them unchecked, they can do a ton a day. In 1999, we lost three tons of grapes to birds.”

Garoutte’s answer has been a propane cannon, which can fire off every 30 seconds.

“We do it three times to get their attention,” he said. “The fourth one chases them off. Then we let it set there for a while so that it’s effective.”

Weisinger said it was one of the latest harvests he’s had at the vineyard he first planted on a hillside 33 years ago.

“We were fortunate to have this warm weather the last few weeks,” Weisinger said. “When I first started testing grapes on the same day we started picking last year, the grapes were just 65 percent of ripeness.”

But Trottman said they expect both quality and a reasonable quantity based on sugar and acidity readings, not to mention how the grapes taste.

For other growers, spring weather lightened the crop.

“We had some damage early in the spring and lost probably 8 to 10 acres because of frost,” said Steve Gardner of Crater Lake Cellars outside Shady Cove.

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