Kevin Merrill

Kevin Merrill

Wine grape harvest is in full swing along the Central Coast. For the past several years we began harvest the last week of August. This year the grapes needed to ripen longer on the vine with harvest beginning the second week of September.

Farmers know no two years are the same. Grape growers have been spoiled with earlier-than-normal harvests over the last couple of years. I think we will be harvesting Chardonnay well into October this season. I always worry about an early fall rain that is never good for ripe fruit sitting out on the vines. Hopefully we are done by Halloween.

We can receive an early rain anytime now. I will always remember one Labor Day weekend when we were on our way to the annual Farm Bureau Barbecue down at Nojoqui Falls Park after an early rain. John Petersen was farming alfalfa along Alamo Pintado Road north of Solvang. John had just baled the last cutting of alfalfa for the year and the bales were still in the field when the rain fell. A few days later the soggy bales of once beautiful dry alfalfa hay were picked up and probably sold to a feedlot before they started rotting. All part of farming.

Many of the folks who used to put on the Farm Bureau Barbecue were part of the Santa Ynez Farm Bureau Center, the Laranjo Bros, Anker Johnson, Andy Petersen and Boyd Bettencourt just to name a few.

Dad used to run a picture in the Valley News of a pretty girl in a cornfield holding a basket or cornucopia full of fresh ears of corn to publicize the event.

The last Farm Bureau Barbecue at Nojoqui I went to was during the mid-1970s, Henry Skytt and his crew barbecued. That was about the end of that era unfortunately.

Agriculture has evolved over the years along the Central Coast, not only in the Santa Ynez Valley, and the Farm Bureau has evolved as well. The barbecue at Nojoqui has been replaced by the annual Celebrate Harvest event in mid-August. For the past two years the event has been held at the beautiful Tres Hermanas Winery picnic area on Foxen Canyon Road.

The Celebrate Harvest event gives aggies and non-aggies a chance to get together, visit and enjoy a part of the county almost forgotten by time. Folks making their way out to the event can’t help but appreciate the farms and ranches tucked along the rolling oak-covered hills as they make their way past the ever-vigilant San Ramon Chapel at the eastern entrance to Foxen Canyon Road.

I remember our daughter Kathleen and I drove home that night after the event with about half the moon casting a faint light over the countryside, including the small Foxen Winery tasting room and the historic Wickenden house as we made our way down the winding country road.

The Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau will celebrate its 100th anniversary in a couple of years. It’s good to know it's still advocating for its members, keeping our ever-evolving agricultural landscape alive and well for future generations.

Fall is a beautiful time of year along the Central Coast, especially along Foxen Canyon Road. Visit the award-winning wineries along the way, say hello to our friends at Tres Hermanas and take a bottle or two of your favorite wine home to enjoy with your own barbecue.

Kevin Merrill of Mesa Vineyard Management is a board member of the Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau, and a director on the Santa Barbara County Fair board. He can be reached at kmerrill@mesavineyard.com

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