They say that scent is the strongest of all memory triggers. I guess that's why any mention of the Harvest Fair comes with a memory of that building full of apples — red, yellow, green, striped apples — an olfactory delight.
But the scent of apples is fading fast. The Harvest Fair now has been marked for a remodel. And while we don't know fully what that means, it's clear there will be an even greater focus on wine and food, and an elimination of the many competitive exhibits and family ag-related activities reminiscent of country fairs.
That's why I went to visit Saralee Kunde last week. She knows as much about the Harvest Fair as anyone. She's been involved in all kinds of ways since it began.
"First it fizzled, then it was a huge success," she says, summing up 37 years of Harvest Fairs.
Is it fizzling again?
You won't hear that from Saralee. She's not a bad news person. More like matter-of-fact. "The times are changing," she says. "I wish they weren't changing, but they are."
The credit for founding the Harvest Fair is easy to assign.It was "Mr. Jamison," Saralee says, still calling J.W. "Wes" Jamison by his teacher's honorific after all these years. The Santa Rosa ag teacher who was also the livestock manager for the county fair, knew that the timing of that fair didn't work for agriculture, particularly apples. The early July opening was set by the racing board and was far too early for crops.
"I think he went to Boonville, to the Mendocino County Fair and Apple Show and saw what a fall event could look like," said Saralee.
The first Harvest Fair, she recalls, "was patched together after the 1975 county fair closed in the middle of July."
The entries and farm exhibits rolled in. "All it took was a visit from Mister Jamison. Most of them had been his students. The apples, everyone remembers those apples, came from the Duttons, the Walkers, the Imwalles, Darrel Hurst at Twin Hills."
The wine competition started slowly, but grew as the somewhat timid challenges to Napa became bolder. Another Jamison student, Rich Thomas, found the judges.
Saralee laughs, remembering that the first wine tasting came off under the aegis of her uncle Ray Wilson's liquor license (he owned the Hideaway in Petaluma) because it was put together too late for the fair to get one of its own.
It was touch-and-go for the first four years, with several county fair directors insisting at every meeting that it be scrapped. But a slim majority of supporters prevailed and, in 1979, Saralee took over as coordinator and a separate board, for just the Harvest Fair, was created.
It was a working board. Members did everything from pound the cash register at the wine sales and empty spit buckets at the tastings to cleaning up after the guest chefs and teaching small children to milk goats.
So, in the '80s, everything came together — not only wine and apples but food, a 10K run that started and ended on the grounds, the Grape Stomp (which took on a life of its own), hayrides, sheep dogs, local music, Jane Engdahl's wacky contests and all those exotic animals like llamas, emus, pot-bellied pigs, miniature ponies and pygmy goats.