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A freeze in Mexico in early February caused some damage to early grape varieties in some areas of Sonora, particularly in some of the earlier vineyards in the Hermosillo area. Most affected were Perlettes and early Flames, according to shippers and distributors in Nogales, AZ.

No official estimates on the crop will be available until late April, but there was a consensus among the people in the industry interviewed during the latter half of March by The Produce News that volume would be light for the early part of the deal in May and normal to strong through June.Mexican grapes

There was a wide range of guesses about how much the overall crop size might be reduced by the freeze damage, with figures ranging anywhere from negligible to 25 percent. The numbers mentioned most frequently were 10-20 percent, but some thought it could go higher and some felt that volume from late May through June would be strong enough to make up for what might be lost earlier in May.

There was virtually universal agreement, however, that there should be plenty of promotional opportunities for Sonora grapes during the month of June.

"In terms of acreage and varieties, ... I would say that is fairly stable," said John Pandol, chairman of the grape division of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas in Nogales and vice president of special projects for Pandol Bros. in Delano, CA. After 10-15 years of "explosive growth" in the Sonora grape deal, acreage and production have pretty much stabilized, he said.

"I would say the normal production is 15 million [boxes], plus or minus 2 million," Mr. Pandol said. "Based on weather events of this year," he expects a crop of around 13 million boxes, which is still in what he considers the "normal" range.

Timing-wise, the deal seems to be running "a week late, much like central California is," he said.

"Everybody is throwing around a lot of crazy numbers, which I think is inappropriate because what we are seeing is, there is a lot of bunch count variation as you go from block to block within a ranch," and until decisions are made as to which bunches to drop, it will be difficult to get a true picture, said Dirk Winkelmann, international business development director for Pacific Trellis Fruit in Reedley, CA. The general feeling for the company's own ranches is that total volume may be down 10-20 percent, but it was too early to know how accurate that might be.

Several of the shippers and distributors interviewed by The Produce News have increased acreage in their own programs this year which are expected to compensate for the losses due to freeze damage, and some may even experience a net increase in volume.

"We expect May supplies to be very light and sketchy," said Cary Crum, vice president of Green Tree International Inc. in Visalia, CA. "But I think ... late May and June supplies should be pretty normal."

Jerry Havel, director of sales and marketing for Fresh Farms in Nogales, AZ, said that while volumes will be on the light side in early May, he expects fairly normal-size crop for the season as a whole, with sufficient volume in late May and June to make up for the light start. "We expect great quality," he stated, "and we expect promotable volumes."