Central California grape season starts late with good volume; good quality expected
by Rand Green | July 20, 2010
Until the second week of July, it had been a tough year for grapes. Chilean
exports came in much later than ever before, causing problems for grape
markets as the spring grape deals got underway in Sonora, Mexico, and the
Coachella Valley in the Southern California desert. Both of those production
regions had large crops, contributing to a continued excess of fruit in the
market and poor prices.
The Mexico and Coachella deals also ran late, and even though the start of the
grape harvest in the San Joaquin Valley in Central California, the state's
largest producing area, was delayed as well due to cool spring weather,
growers were concerned that there might be a significant overlap, with
shipments from Mexico and Coachella continuing strong after the start of the
Central California deal.
That concern persisted into the week of July 5, even as a few growers with
very early vineyards in the southern San Joaquin Valley began harvesting some
Perlettes, Flames and Sugraones. But by Monday, July 12, when several other
Central California growers got into the game, it had become evident that the
major overlap many had feared had failed to materialize.
For various reasons -- ranging from quality and condition issues on some of
the grapes in Mexico to unattractive pricing in U.S. markets -- a substantial
volume of fruit in Mexico was diverted to the national market rather than
exported, or was sold for juice or simply left on the vines. At the same time,
strong retail promotions in the United States created significant demand,
allowing marketers of Mexican fruit in Nogales, AZ, as well as shippers in
Coachella to clean up inventory faster than expected, clearing the pipeline for
a strong start for the San Joaquin Valley deal.
Some grapes from Mexico and Coachella may continue to be in the market
through much of July and possibly into August for certain varieties -- but not,
apparently, in significant volume.
"It's going to be an aggressive start," Anthony Stetson, vice president of sales
for Pandol Bros. in Delano, CA, said July 13. "We've got good demand. We've
held prices strong. We're $14 to $15 on Flames today, which is a good start
for Arvin," an early district in the San Joaquin Valley. Also, "demand has been
Although the early varieties were getting a late start -- about 10 days late for
Pandol Bros. -- Mr. Stetson expected that the later varieties would be closer
to normal with regard to timing.
Early Flames and to some degree Sugraones were also showing some variation
in berry size within bunches, growers said, but they expected that situation
also to improve as the season moved along.
Except for the issue with berry size, growers said that fruit quality appears to
be excellent this year, with good sugars, good color, few if any defects, and
nice bunches. It also appeared that yields would be excellent, with a potential
for a large crop -- all of that subject, as always, to weather throughout the
remainder of the season.
"This is the first time that I have noticed that no one has really rushed in the
Arvin area to get fruit off" at the start of the season, observed Nick Dulcich, a
partner in Jacov P. Dulcich & Sons and president of Sunlight International Sales
Inc. in McFarland, CA. Wanting to give the spring grape deals as much room
to clean up as possible, "everybody has sort of let the fruit come the way it
should. ... So in essence, this being a little later is good," he said. "Demand is
active, and prices are normal for this time of the year."
"We are seeing strong interest in promotional programs from a wide cross
section of retailers and other customers," Tony Fazio, president of Fazio
marketing Inc. in Fresno, CA, said July 7. "We see very strong demand to
promote the Central California grapes. We are very pleased."
(For more on California grapes, see the July 26, 2010, issue of The Produce