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Cool spring has grape deals running one to two weeks late

by Rand Green | June 03, 2010
Cool weather in California and in Sonora, Mexico, has pushed back the harvest of most grape varieties by one to two weeks in all growing areas.

As of June 1, when desert grapes in Coachella, CA, would normally be in strong production, the harvest was just beginning. Similarly, the Mexican grape deal in the state of Sonora, which would normally be in full swing by the first of June, was just starting to build in volume.

Because of the delayed timing of the harvest, both Sonora and Coachella were expecting to have good supplies available for the July 4 pull — a time when they typically would be winding down.

In California's San Joaquin Valley, the early Arvin grape deal was also running late and was not expected to get rolling until a week or so after the Fourth of July.

"It definitely is running late," said David Clyde, president of Stevco Inc., which ships fresh table grapes from the Coachella Valley as well as from the San Joaquin Valley. Mr. Clyde, who was in the company’s Coachella office when The Produce News spoke with him June 2, said, “We are about 10 days later down here than we were last year. In the northern deal [the southern San Joaquin Valley], we are probably two weeks behind up there, and I can’t imagine anybody is any less than that. If some heat comes on, it may catch up a few days, but it is definitely going to be later than last year.”

Mr. Clyde was hoping that “the northern deal will continue to be late” so the desert deal and the Arvin deal “won’t run into each other.”

In the desert, “we just started,” Mr. Clyde said. “We have one outside grower that we started last week, on Thursday [May 27]. We, ourselves, this is our first day.”

Mr. Clyde added that he expected “excellent supplies for the Fourth of July.” The quality is “very good this year. We had good winter dormancy, so we have good crops, and the cooler weather has brought on good size, so it should be some very nice fruit for the Fourth of July.”

Mexico is late, “but they are running pretty good right now,” he said. “From my standpoint, a couple of issues have really affected the Coachella and Mexico deals,” said Rick Paul, category director for Sun World International LLC, headquartered in Bakersfield, CA. First, both deals are “later than last year, and later than normal by probably a week because of cooler weather.”

In addition, Mr. Paul said that growers in both areas “would agree that Flame prices have been affected like never before by the amount of Chilean Crimsons that remain in the market after we started our crops. It has resulted in much lower prices than we historically have had.”

The variety that seems to be most delayed by the cool weather is Sugraone, Mr. Paul said. The crop is large, with large berry size, but “we are really struggling on maturity.”

On the other hand, he said that Flames love the cool weather, “so the Flame coloring is excellent in the Coachella Valley,” whereas getting good color on Flames in Coachella is often a challenge.

The late timing of the desert grapes will be “mitigated by the fact that for Sun World, we are looking at starting somewhere between July 12 and July 14 out of Arvin,” so that will result in about the same amount of marketing time from start to finish for Coachella as in a normal year, he said.

Sun World projected that its peak weeks for grape volume in Coachella would be the weeks of June 14 and June 21. Mr. Paul expected an ample supply of Flames and Sugraones for the Fourth of July pull.

“The weather has kind of held us back,” said John Harley, sales manager for Anthony Vineyards in Bakersfield, CA. “It has really affected the white grapes more so than the reds or the colored grapes. That is because white grapes like the heat” more than the colored varieties do.

Because of the slow start, “we basically missed any kind of volume for Memorial Day weekend and are now starting to ramp up a little bit this week,” he said June 2.

Normally, by that time “we would be harvesting upwards of 20,000 to 30,000 [boxes of] Flames a day, and we are not even close to that, and we don’t project that coming for probably another week or 10 days.”

Arvin also looks like it will be about 10 days late, he said. “Everything is just getting pushed back.”

Jerry Havel, director of sales and marketing for Fresh Farms in Nogales, AZ, which markets Mexican grapes, said June 1, “We are still not even really harvesting Sugraones yet,” although Perlettes were just finishing. “We have had a lot of Flames on the market,” but movement has been slower than normal because “there have been a lot of Crimsons in the market from Chile.”

He expected to be selling Mexican grapes, and particularly Sugraones, into the first week or even the second week of July this year. Red Globes and black seedless should also be in promotable volume for the Fourth of July, but red seedless probably will not, he said.

He did not expect much of an overlap with Arvin because “Arvin is also late.”