Napa Valley: Home to Wine Tasting -- and Turkey Hunting

Some vineyard owners take aim when wild turkeys threaten their precious grapes.

Nov. 21, 2007 — -- California wine country is a civilized place, framed by lush landscapes, beautiful vineyards and refined wine tasting. But the pristine Napa Valley is also home to wild turkeys, and the people who hunt them.

Amid the world's finest cabernets and merlots, you might just catch a glimpse of turkeys dodging bullets between the vines.

Vineyard owner and heir to the Sutter Home wine label Dave Trinchero gave "Nightline" a rare glimpse into the hidden side of wine country; a side so sensitive -- even dangerous -- that his fellow vineyard owners feel uncomfortable talking about it.

"They'll come to me, because I'm a local hunting guide, and because I'm the president of the National Wild Turkey Federation Chapter for this area, so they'll complain to me, but they're not willing to do it on camera," Trinchero said. "They complain that their crops get wasted, that [the turkeys] are raping their crops."

That's right -- the turkeys. It turns out the chubby little birds like to eat grapes and they love wine country, a potential recipe for disaster on a vineyard.

So every Thanksgiving, for two short weeks, Trinchero's beautiful vineyards turn into battlefields: man vs. turkey.

'They Are That Good'

The" Nightline" crew suited up in camouflage and went along to watch.

"It's a little early right now, and it rained last night, and if they're cold they'll sit up there in that tree for a little bit longer and be a lot more quiet," explained Trinchero.

Trinchero began his turkey call, an art form that took him four years to learn, and then he took out the masks.

"The reflection of the skin on your face will alarm the birds," he explained. "And if they can distinguish a human form, they'll never come within shooting range."

It was then the hunt started getting good.

From our makeshift bunker hidden amid the cabernets behind a camouflage netting of unknown vintage, we watched Trinchero and the turkeys actually talk to each other.

Without Trinchero's trained ear, I doubt we would have identified the faint, faraway bird sounds as turkey, but he seemed certain there was a large flock -- maybe 45 turkeys -- about 350 yards away from his precious grapes. Trinchero said these particular turkeys have good taste: "This vineyard here is half cabernet and half gewürztraminer."

And they'd be watching. Trinchero swears he once lost a hunt because a turkey spotted him blinking.

"Those birds know within five feet of where we are right now from the talking noise," he said. "They are that good."

No time to chat with us -- it was time to talk turkey again.

The 'Diverse Diet'

After the excitement of dressing up and sitting in a cold dark vineyard began to wear off a bit, we started to realize the turkeys were not in fact getting any closer. The hunt had reached a stalemate, and it was time to regroup.

Trinchero eats the turkeys he catches, but said you can't taste the precious grapes in the bird. But, he added, you can taste olives.

"The flavor of forage that I've tasted coming through a turkey is olives …A bird that's been living in an olive orchard tastes kind of like a marinated olive," he explained.

We toured the vineyard for a while by ATV; Trinchero was convinced we could ambush the pesky turkeys. He also told us they aren't his only problem.

"If you get turkey in here, the natural predators for the turkey are the bobcat and the mountain lion," he said.

I'd like to tell you that at this point we rounded a corner and had a phenomenal encounter with a wily group of turkeys. It didn't happen, but we did have a fantastic lunch, complete with wild turkey from a previous vineyard hunt.

In fact, from the wine on the table to the stuffing, everything seemed to be from the vineyard.

The sausage in the stuffing? "It was a wild boar that was walking through the vineyard," Trinchero said.

At this point there's really only one more thing you need to know.

Trinchero said the turkey he hunts do taste better than the turkey you'd find in your grocery store, because they "eat a more diverse diet."

Of course, the wine helps, too.