As we move into September, the warm days we were looking for all summer have finally arrived — just in time for the kids to start school and to push our grapes closer to harvest.
The small pinot noir bunches stand out against the green leaves above the fruit. Some leaves at the base of the cordon are beginning to turn yellow, a sure sign the vines know harvest is getting close.
The cool summertime temperatures probably helped limit the number of fires we have had in the area. Now that the weather has turned warmer, folks need to remain cautious and make sure that trend continues.
Here at the vineyard, we just had our annual fire extinguisher training, along with replacing the fire retardant inside the extinguishers. Luckily, we have never had to use our training to put out a fire on the ranch or a piece of equipment.
As I watched our employees go through the steps of actually using a fire extinguisher to put out a small fire, I was taken back to the upstairs of the adobe where my grandparents lived on Alamo Pintado Road near Ballard.
When we were small, we used to go upstairs and explore the rooms where many things were stored. Among them were cases of glass containers filled with a red liquid. The name Red Comet was printed on the top of each box.
The glass containers were shaped like orbs, and each one was carefully wrapped in paper and placed in its own square compartment.
I think we took one out to look at it and then carefully put it back, not knowing what it really was.
We went downstairs after finding these strange-looking orbs and asked my grandfather Sam what they were. He told us that they were used to put out fires, and were sold a long time ago.
He told us that my dad sold them after he and my mom got married and they were living with my grandparents at the ranch after World War II.
After we found out what they were, my brother, Dana, and I went and found Dad and asked him about the orbs.
Dad told us that after he and Mom got married, he was looking for a job to help pay the bills. He was working on the ranch and helping my grandfather but needed to help with some extra income.
He told us that it was before he was able to get a job with the Santa Ynez Valley News.
I guess the opportunity to sell Red Comet fire extinguishers came along, and he took it.
The Red Comet Manufacturing Co. was based in Colorado, and they sent Dad several cases of the extinguishers to sell.
Dad told us that he went around to all the ranches in the Valley and did sell some of them; the boxes we found upstairs in the adobe were left over.
Apparently, the orbs could either be placed in a holder mounted on a wall or thrown at the base of a fire, allowing the fluid to splash over the flames.
Some had fuses that were set off when the temperature rose to 160 degrees. I guess the glass would break, and the liquid was supposed to put out the fire — sort of an early-day fire sprinkler system.
I’m not sure how long Dad sold those devices. Luckily, he was able to start work at the Valley News, where he chronicled the lives and times of the people living in the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley for more than 35 years.
Kevin Merrill of Mesa Vineyard Management is president of the Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau and a board member for the Central Coast Wine Growers’ Association Foundation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.