Back to work in the vineyard, and a visit to Sacramento | Kevin Merrill | columnist

This past week we were able to get our tractors back into the fields, our pruning crews were able to start earlier in the sandy parts of the vineyard.

I am happy to report that we have received 18 inches of rain so far this season, a great start to recharging our lakes and aquifers. Our hills, thanks to the bountiful rains have turned verdant green, and almost every small stream has water running in it, a sight we have not seen for over the last six years or more.

Last week I attended the Unified Wine and Grape Symposium that is held in Sacramento each year. I was glad to see the hills were green all the way from Los Alamos to Sacramento with water still running in usually dry streambeds all along the west side of the San Joaquín Valley.

As I drove along I-5, I thought if only more of our state legislators would wake up and work on saving and storing this water for years when the rains aren’t so plentiful … but that’s a story for another day.

A highlight at this year’s Unified Grape Symposium was watching my brother Dana receive the California Association of Wine Grape Growers, Grower of the Year award. Dana served as chairman of the board as the industry faced the spread of the glassy winged sharpshooter, a potentially devastating pest that was capable of spreading Pierces Disease throughout the state’s vineyards, which ultimately kills the vines.

Dana, along with then President of CAWG, Karen Ross, were able to get growers to fund a program to work alongside the Department of Food and Agriculture to stop the spread of this deadly pest. Armed with funding from the industry, they were able to convince state legislators to fund research and methods to stop the spread of this pest which decimated wine grape vineyards in Temecula.

The program was successful and is still in place today.

The symposium, held at the Sacramento Convention Center, attracts winemakers, growers and vendors from across the United States and the world. The four-day event has grown since the last time I attended 15 years or so ago.

It provides a great opportunity to network with folks in the industry. Most of the restaurants in the area cater to late night dinners with growers and wineries making deals for next season.

Wines flow easily with great food and company. I’ll have to admit, my wine consumption slowed down dramatically since the last time I attended, which helped me focus a little better during the morning education sessions, which luckily don’t start too early.

I made it back to the vineyard in Los Alamos and found our tractors working and crews pruning, getting our vines ready for the 2023 vintage.

I was saddened to learn that my friend DeWayne Holmdahl passed away. When we first started farming I remember DeWayne, who ran a feed store in Lompoc on Miguelito Canyon, took an interest in our fledgling farming operation. We bought our first large orders of both oat and alfalfa seed along with dry fertilizer from Dewayne.

Later, we hired him to pick up our baled alfalfa with his New Holland balewagon.

Timmy Bolts used to drive the balewagon for DeWayne, coming all the way over from Lompoc to our fields near Los Olivos. DeWayne had a varied career, including time as 4th District county supervisor and Lompoc City Councilman.

He was a true advocate for agriculture. He will be missed.

The weatherman says there may be more rain in the forecast, lets hope he is right.

Kevin Merrill of Mesa Vineyard Management is a board member of the Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau and director on the Santa Barbara County Fair Board. He can be reached at [email protected]

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