Kevin Merrill: Graduating into a different future

Kevin Merrill

I am getting back to writing my columns again after taking a break for a month and a half. Thanks to the folks who reached out to me asking if I was ok during my time off, as many folks enjoy hearing about what is happening on the vineyard, what our kids are up to, along with my memories of rural life on the ranch growing up.

It's hard to believe that we are a little more than a week away from Thanksgiving and the beginning of the holiday season. Since my last column, we were busy with a later-than-normal grape harvest that seemed to take forever to get going.

Even though we had nice weather the sugar levels in our fruit seemed to be stuck just below what our winemakers were looking for. Towards the end of September things began to change and we started picking, a good 30 days later than usual. Because we began so late both our Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes were ready at the same time, causing the wineries to shift into high gear as well.

This season I had a new sugar tester taking samples in the vineyard, our son Clayton took over for his sister Kathleen, who moved up to San Luis Obispo to finish her senior year at Cal Poly. Clayton is working part-time on the vineyard while he goes to school at Allan Hancock.

The threat of a big rainstorm around the third week of October concerned growers with Chardonnay still hanging on the vines. Thankfully we received just over an inch of rain, not the 4-5 inches they were forecasting, and most growers got their grapes off with little or no damage.

It’s nice to have this harvest behind us in Santa Barbara County, we are just finishing picking on some Paso Robles and Paicines ranches we manage. The grapes hung on the vine a long time this year, that should make for a great vintage.

As I said above, it’s nice to have this harvest behind us, I think we can all agree it will be nice to have the challenges that 2021 brought behind us as well. We have to remain optimistic that the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us and we remain vigilant against its spread. We are hopeful for at least an average rainfall year, and our lakes and streams begin to fill while replenishing our groundwater levels.

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. It brings fond memories of family, especially my Mom using her best china and polishing the silver dinnerware along with a fancy white tablecloth that dressed up our dining room for the special occasion.

I read somewhere that our Thanksgiving holiday started with George Washington calling for a national day of thanks to celebrate the end of the Revolutionary War and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1789.

It was never really official until Sarah Josepha Hale urged President Abraham Lincoln to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday after the battle of Gettysburg in 1863, in the hopes that it would “heal the wounds of the nation”. In 1870 President Ulysses S. Grant signed into law the Holidays Act, making Thanksgiving a yearly federal holiday. Let’s hope that healing continues across our nation today.

My wife Karen, our kids Kathleen, Clayton, and I, wish you all a blessed and happy Thanksgiving.

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