Summer officially began last week and we had the temperatures to prove it.

Temperatures rose to the mid-90s on our vineyard near Los Alamos and warmer in other locations. Grape clusters on our vines are growing quickly and the fruit is sizing nicely. We even have some color in our Pinot Noir grapes, and veraison is beginning early.

Looks like it will be another early harvest for wine grapes here this year. That may be the new norm.

Last week I was west of New Cuyama where we are working on installing a new state-of-the art vineyard, and the temperature rose to 104 in the afternoon. I take my straw hat, with a cooler of cold water when I go out there this time of year. Reminds me of my farming days in the San Joaquin Valley.

I grew table grapes when Karen and I lived in Arvin, southeast of Bakersfield. We made some life-long friends there. Arvin’s motto, a “Garden in the Sun, the Best Place on Earth,” used to be on a sign on either end of town. I think most people living on the Central Coast drive through Arvin on their way to Las Vegas.

In the days when there was a season for fruits and vegetables, Arvin was the second area to start picking table grapes. The first early table grapes were harvested from the Coachella Valley, then the harvest would move to Arvin. Folks picking grapes would move north with the harvest as well.

Fresh, green Perlette grapes were some of the first to come off, long before the superior and flame seedless varieties came along. In the days before we started receiving table grapes from Chile and Argentina, table grapes were only available in the stores from early summer to Thanksgiving. The growers in Arvin tried to get in as early as possible to take advantage of an early market, before grapes in Delano and Tulare were harvested.

Karen and I lived next to the vineyard below Bear Mountain. We could walk out or front door and pick a bunch of flame seedless grapes right off of the vines. I ate a lot more fruit in those days.

Get news headlines sent daily to your inbox

Harvest began early, with trucks delivering empty boxes along the vineyard roads before the sun came up so they were ready for crews at sunup. The crews used small carts that looked like a flat wheel barrel that held their picking trays. After the trays were full they would push them out to the end of the row where the empty boxes and a packing tables were waiting. Usually two or three experienced women removed the fruit from the trays and packed them into the boxes that were destined for the cooler, and ultimately grocery stores all over the world.

I remember the swampers that came along in the early afternoon to load the trucks with the packed boxes of grapes. A crew of three — one on the ground, one on the bed of the truck and a driver. They would stop at each packing table and the swamper on the ground would begin to throw the full boxes of grapes to the guy on the bed of the truck. Before you knew it, the truck was loaded and headed to the cooler.

Those were warm days in Arvin. Next time you are in the grocery store, buy some table grapes, see where they come from, hopefully California. There is no better cold snack than an ice-cold table grape from the Garden in the Sun.

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