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With a lighter-than-anticipated combined volume of table grapes being shipped out of Mexico and California's Coachella Valley during May and the first half of June -- and with that situation expected to continue up to the start of the San Joaquin Valley grape harvest the final days of June and beginning of July -- market prices were expected to be strong for the early grapes out of the San Joaquin Valley.

But by mid-July, good supplies of fresh California grapes were expected in the San Joaquin Valley, coming out of all districts from Arvin north to Fresno, with a return to more stable pricing.

Quality is expected to be excellent, some say vintage.

The California Table Grape Commission projects a total 2009 volume of 98.25 million boxes (19-pound equivalent), down almost imperceptibly from last year's record volume of 98.5 million pounds.

"Pretty much everybody I have talked to say they have a good crop ... on par with last year's," said Chris Caratan, vice president of Columbine Vineyards in Delano, CA. Columbine expected to begin its season with Flame seedless grapes from Arvin sometime during the first week of July.

Quality looks "good so far," he said June 8. "We had good shatter last month, so the bunches are plenty loose, and so far the growing conditions have been really good."

"Right now, everything looks to be normal," Rick Paul, commodity director at Sun World International LLC, headquartered in Bakersfield, CA, said of the company's San Joaquin Valley crop. "We are pretty satisfied with our estimated crop size and quality, so we are anxious to finish Coachella and move up here because we have been fighting supplies most of the way through Coachella."

"We're excited about how the fruit has been moving out of Mexico and Coachella at retail," said Chuck Olsen, president of The Chuck Olsen Co. Inc. in Visalia, CA. "Retail prices have been such that it seems to be moving more fruit. We hope that continues."

"The Coachella deal is going very well," David Clyde of Los Angeles-based Stevco Inc. said June 8. "Prices are up." Color has been an issue on red varieties, and sugar has been an issue on green varieties in Coachella, so "that has pushed us back. It has made us a little bit later" than normal, so "we will probably run a little bit into the Arvin deal. ... But from what I understand, ... they are a little bit on the late side now themselves."

Several growers told The Produce News during the second week of June that cooler weather was delaying the start of the crop beyond original expectations, but most felt that this would only contribute to better quality fruit.

Sean Stockton, president of Sundale Sales Inc. in Tulare, CA, said that Sundale had originally predicted a start date between June 29 and July 1. "Now we are looking more like the 6th" due to cooler temperatures, he said June 9. "But that is good. It is allowing the fruit to size, and everything looks really good in the field."

"Quality looks good thus far," said John Harley, sales manager at Anthony Vineyards in Bakersfield. Due to strong demand plus a lighter-than-normal crop in Coachella and Mexico, he does not expect much overlap of those districts with the start in the San Joaquin Valley, nor does he expect much inventory buildup, which should help keep markets stable in the transition.

(For more on the early San Joaquin Valley grape deal, see the June 22 issue of The Produce News.)