The front end of the grape season in the San Joaquin Valley of California was
slow to start, with early varieties, particularly Flame seedless, being not only
delayed by the unusually cool, wet spring weather but beset with quality
problems and packing out under estimate. Many growers said it has been a
year like none they remember.
But late-summer and fall varieties appear to be returning to a more normal
timing and are expected to have much better quality and packouts.
Opinions differ as to whether there will be a significant overlap as the later
varieties come on strong while the delayed early varieties are still finishing or
whether the early varieties will be light enough and short enough to prevent
such a bunching up of volume from occurring. Many think the total industry
volume for season will be well below even the most recently revised official
Most of the growers and shippers interviewed by The Produce News said that
they see good promotional opportunities for the balance of the season, but
they do not expect an inventory glut as long as movement and retail support
What is clear is that there is a larger percentage of the crop remaining to be
marketed than in a typical year. Even in a normal year, late summer and fall
are peak season for California grapes, and in recent years, with the
introduction of new late-season red, green and black seedless varieties both
public and proprietary, the late deal has become increasingly important.
As always, there are two caveats. One is that the weather between now and
harvest time on any particular vineyard can change the picture significantly.
The other is that how well any given variety does in any particular vineyard
depends on numerous factors such as location, microclimate, soil and cultural
practices — and what a grower sees in his own vineyards may not always
reflect what is happening industrywide.
Evidence of that is seen in the fact that while most Flame vineyards harvested
in the valley this season have shown considerable size variation within the
bunches — and there have also been widespread problems with splitting as
well as some botrytis, all leading to low packouts — there are a few blocks of
Flames that have had good production with uniform size structure and
virtually no quality problems.
In most cases, however, picking crews have had to spend a lot of extra time
clipping and cleaning up the bunches in order to put up a quality pack of
Flames. And even then, the percentage of No. 2 packs on the market is much
higher than most years.
"Overall, looking at total numbers, I think we are going to see the crop, in our
case, [that] is going to come up a little bit shorter than we anticipated," Tony
Fazio, president of Fazio Marketing Inc. in Fresno, CA, said Aug. 9.
So far, demand has been good throughout the season, he said.
Louie Galvan, an owner of Fruit Royale Inc. in Delano, CA, said Aug. 6 that
“coming into the season ... we were up to a couple of weeks late, but now [it
is] starting to get back towards normal harvest dates for these later varieties
... . It is normalizing as we get through the summer here.”
As with several other shippers, Fruit Royale is “heavy to the latter part of the
deal” and will have at least 70 percent of its volume yet to harvest after Sept.
“I think the overall crop is going to be significantly less than what the
[California Table] Grape Commission has projected, and they have already
come off one projection,” said Sean Stockton, president of Sundale Sales Inc.
in Tulare, CA.
According to Sheri Mierau, vice president of sales and marketing for Fruit
Patch Sales LLC in Dinuba, CA, most producers have been getting “about a 30
percent less packout” on Flames. “Overall, the fruit quality is excellent,” she
continued. “It is just not packing out quite as good as everyone had
She expects to see a similar issue with Crimsons which, for Fruit Patch, were
set to start about the end of August.
Because of a “lack of supply on the Flames” and a good number of retail ads
in place, Jared Lane, vice president of sales and marketing at Stevco Inc. in
Bakersfield, CA, said Aug. 8, “I see a [possible] gap between Crimsons and
Flames. It might get a little tight here” if the Crimsons are slow to color.
However, with recent cool weather, “Crimson color has been moving at a very
rapid pace.” He added, “I do expect very good things from Princess, Crimson,
Scarlet Royals, all those late varieties,” because they seem to have handled
the cool weather in March and April better than the earlier varieties.
“I think this crop is going to pack out much lighter on most all varieties,” said
Atomic Torosian, a managing partner with Crown Jewels Marketing LLC in
Fresno, CA. “Demand is exceeding the short supply so far.”