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Kevin Merrill

Kevin Merrill

Our summer season is winding down as our Chardonnay grapes are beginning to soften and 90 percent of our Pinot Noir bunches are turning from the light green color of summer into the deep red they are known for as we get closer to harvest.

Starlings have begun their assault on the red fruit, picking off what they can before growers cover the vines with netting trying to keep the birds at bay.

Wine grape harvest will probably start a little later this year, thanks in part to cooler-than-normal summer temperatures. I would not be surprised to see a warm Indian summer this year as harvest gets into full swing toward the end of September.

Last Saturday morning I got up early, like always, and mom and the kids were up at my brother’s in Paso Robles enjoying their swimming pool before their summer breaks comes to an end later this week.

I grabbed a cup of coffee and turned on the news before heading out to the field. After two minutes of listening to a recap of the week’s sad stories of mass shootings and who’s to blame for them, I turned off the TV and headed out into the cool, foggy morning.

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I checked on our spray crew that started the day around 4 a.m., then made my way around the vineyard as the fog just began to lift. With only the spray crew working, the vineyard was quiet, and as I made my way up into the hills I could hear quail calling in the distance. As I turned a corner a small covey was just coming out of the brush with a hen leading a group of chicks, maybe two weeks old, out into the vineyard to forage beneath the vines. They were followed by a male with his signature plume of feathers and black face mask watching out for any predators that might be in the area. I watched them scoot back into the brush as I started my pickup and then head for the next block of grapes.

The radio in my truck was tuned to Prime Country and soon Alan Jackson came on singing “Little Bitty.” The song took me back to when both Kathleen and Clayton used to go out with me in the morning and listen to country music. “Little Bitty” was one of their favorites. They still go out with me from time to time. Kathleen is more of an early riser these days while her brother likes to sleep in when he can.

I am going to recruit both of them to be my sugar testers this year as the grapes become riper in the next week to 10 days. They both like driving the Kubota RTV through the vineyard, gathering clusters to weigh and crush so we can monitor the sugar level, also known as brix, for the wineries buying our fruit.

Kathleen is working part-time down at the Farm Bureau office in Buellton. She has already asked me if she could help in the vineyard this year. She realizes a little extra money for gas in her truck or tack for her horses can’t hurt. Clayton has his eye on a new shotgun for trap shooting which is a great incentive, as long as I can get him going on a Saturday morning.

Enjoy the last weeks of summer, the beginning of Autumn is just a little over a month away.

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Kevin Merrill of Mesa vineyard Management is a board member for 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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