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I was glad to see the 80-degree days we had last week. The warm days we need to ripen our grapes have been elusive all summer.

We have started picking some fruit in Santa Maria, but our vineyards around Los Alamos need more of those warm days to push the sugar content of the fruit high enough to make the great wine we all enjoy from this area.

There is nothing we can do about the weather. We just optimistically wait and hope the first rains of the season don’t appear for another six weeks or more.

I read a story in the paper a few weeks ago honoring three rodeo roping champions from the Santa Ynez Valley. They were brothers Leo and Jerold Camarillo, along with their cousin, Reg.

I can remember going up to Los Olivos with my dad to take a picture of the roping trio for a story he was working on for the Santa Ynez Valley News.

The Camarillos lived just west of town near the entrance to Ballard Canyon Road near Highway 154. The ranch house and the barn next to it are still there today.

After the Camarillos sold it, I believe it became a horse-training facility, complete with a life-size statue of a horse standing in the upper doorway of the barn.

I remember Dad telling me that Leo and Jerold’s father, Ralph, spent all of his spare time working with the boys, helping them become the champions they are today. It was great to see them honored by the Oakdale Cowboy Museum on Sept. 18.

I don’t know Leo, Jerold or Reg, but I did know their sister, Christie. She and I were in the same class in high school. Everyone who knows Christie will tell you she has an infectious smile and a great sense of humor.

When we were seniors in 1974, I ordered a new pickup from John Cunningham down at Sun Motors.

It took quite a while to be delivered, and Christie and our friend, Theresa Denny, used to kid me that I did not even order it. They told me if, indeed, the pickup ever was delivered, they wanted to be the first to take a ride in it.

The truck finally made it, and I made a date with Christie and Theresa to go for a ride on a Saturday morning.

Christie told me she had just the place to go, her “country club” on Foxen Canyon Road. I picked the girls up around 10 a.m. in Los Olivos, and off we went to Christie’s country club.

It turned out the “country club” was the Corral de Quati ranch, where I think Christie’s mom worked during the week.

Christie told us about her swimming pool and tennis courts and how she enjoyed using them during the week when the owners were away.

As we got to the ranch driveway, I asked Christie if she was sure it was OK to drive into the ranch.

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“No problem. You guys have got to check out my country club.”

So, in we went. We reached the top of the driveway and began to make our way around the circular driveway in front of the main house, when all of a sudden we heard gunshots close by.

I looked at Christie and said, “What is that? I thought you knew these folks.”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Let’s get out of here. Kev, let’s see what this truck can do.”

We left the country club quickly and laughed all the way back to Los Olivos. We still laugh about that trip when Christie comes down for a visit.

Congratulations to Leo, Jerold and Reg. Christie, next time you come to the Valley, maybe we can call Theresa and check out the country club. We’ll let you drive.

Kevin Merrill of Mesa Vineyard Management is president of the Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau and a member of the Central Coast Wine Growers’ Association Foundation. He can be reached at