Kevin Merrill

Kevin Merrill

This year we began harvesting our Pinot Noir by machine, early in the evening on Sept. 3. A warm, humid, sultry night, complete with sporadic rain showers and flashes of lightening off in the distance.

I met the harvest crew at 6:30 that evening at our shop as they were getting the machines ready to go out for the evening. I wasn’t sure we were going to start, I had reports from Santa Maria that an inch of rain had already fallen up there and harvest was cancelled for the night.

Since the rain was on and off and pretty light on our vineyard just north of Los Alamos, I had the guys take the machines out into the field. I was more concerned about the lightening, but it had stopped for quite a while. I kept looking at the weather radar on my phone and it showed we were right on the edge of the summer storm activity and it was supposed to pass by within the hour and remain clear until early morning.

We ended up picking through the night under clear, warm skies. Our hand crews were greeted by a few showers early that morning around 5:45, just enough moisture to make the leaves wet and the people picking wetter. By 8 a.m. the vines and crews were all dried off. The moisture did settle the dust, which was nice, especially after that hot weather we had a few weeks ago.

This time of year I am always taken back to when my dad used to cover the weekend-long Danish Days celebration for the Santa Ynez Valley News. Danish Days is traditionally held on the third weekend in September every year in Solvang. I can remember a lot of Danish Days celebrations that were just plain hot. I don’t remember it raining during Danish Days, but I’m sure it probably has over the years.

I was thinking about dad the other day and remember how hard he worked to get ready for the Danish Days weekend. Camera bags, that I used to carry for him, were filled with extra film, strobe lights and big batteries to power the flash attachments he had on his Roliflex cameras.

Special community happenings like Danish Days were really his harvest events. From the weeklong preparation, to working long hours covering the event, ending with the fruit of his labors spread throughout the pages of the Valley News the following Thursday for the community to enjoy, and keep as a part of history.

Dad passed away in September 1998. It’s probably been over 30 years since a cutline written by King Merrill has appeared under any photos in the Valley News. I would bet that any family in the Santa Ynez Valley with any Danish heritage had their photo taken by dad for the newspaper during or before Danish Days at one time or another. I can easily spot one of dad’s photos, as they are used from time to time in different publications, even if the “Photo by King Merrill” is not included.

If you have a chance, visit Solvang this weekend and enjoy the Ableskiver breakfast and watch the Danish dancers accompanied by the Village Band, seated atop the famous Carlsberg Beer Wagon along Copenhagen Drive. I hope to be there Saturday, enjoy a cold Carlsberg beer with my friends and raise a hearty skol to Danish Days past and future.

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,