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It will be welcome news to many retailers and other buyers that fresh grapes from California, which have been running light and late since the start of the season, should finally be coming on strong, in excellent quality and promotable volumes, from late August well into fall. That is the anticipation of most of the shippers The Produce News talked to in early August.

Besides being late due to a cool spring and early summer, some early-season varieties such as Flames have

A worker packs grapes in a San Joaquin Valley vineyard.
picked out a little lighter than expected for some growers, but most expect mid and late-season varieties to have good volumes. The exception is Autumn Royals, which most growers expect to be considerably light this year. Even there, some see close to normal crops on their own ranches, depending on location.

 

Color seemed to be coming on well on the mid-season red and black grapes, growers said. On all colors, waiting for sugar has held up the harvest to date in many vineyards.

Opinions vary on whether the later varieties will continue to come off late, thus extending the season on the back end (weather permitting), or whether the later varieties will come off in a more normal timeframe. Some growers said that with warmer weather, they now expect even some of their mid-season varieties to have close to normal start dates.

Several newer mid- and late-season varieties have been extensively planted and will be harvested in more specific numbers this year. Most notable, perhaps, is the Autumn King, a late-season green seedless variety that will begin to play a significant role in the late deal this year. Luisco, another late green seedless variety, will also have increased production. Many Thompson growers have reduced their acreage and will not be going as late with the variety now that alternatives are available that can be picked later.

In the red seedless category, Sweet Scarlet and Scarlet Royal will be making inroads into what has been a dominantly Crimson market. Several newer proprietary varieties of red seedless will also see greater production this year.

“The blacks, the Scarlets, the Sweet Celebrations, all those colored varieties seem to be moving very quickly [toward maturity],” With the cool nights, “every time you look at them, [they’ve] got more and more color,” said Louie Galvan, a partner in Delano, CA-based Fruit Royale Inc., Aug. 5. But, “the greens have been a little bit of a struggle. They are taking their time.”

“The cool spring and lack of heat units” caused a delay on the early varieties, particularly out of the Arvin district at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, said Nick Dulcich, a partner in Jacov P. Dulcich & Sons in Delano, CA, and president of Sunlight International Sales Inc. in Delano, CA, exclusive sales agent for Dulcich & Sons. That delay resulted in “a shortage in the market and “one of the highest markets I have ever seen for Flame seedless, with f.o.b.s topping out about $26.”

The lack of heat also delayed the early green seedless varieties, “and that make the market pull harder on the reds, keeping the market firm.” It has been, so far, “one of the most unique markets I’ve seen in the 19 years that I’ve been doing this,” he said Aug. 9.

But volume had finally start to come on, and retailers were beginning to get “quality fruit” into their stores, he said, noting that the overall feeling he sensed for the remainder of the grape season was positive.

The “inconsistent spring” and the “cool start to summer” makes the season difficult to predict, according to Fred Valentino, an account manager with RJO Produce Marketing in Fresno, CA. Because the weather patterns have been so unusual, there is no historical data to rely on, “so we don’t know what this deal is going to do.” But the later varieties “could catch up due to a little better weather,” and from a quality standpoint, “everybody is saying we are going to be OK,” he said Aug. 9.

“Overall, I think the crop is going to be a little lighter than what [the California Table Grape Commission] first estimated,” which was close to a record 100 million boxes, said Atomic Torosian, a managing partner at Crown Jewels Produce Co. in Fresno. It was a view shared by several others in the deal.

Export markets are “very good right now,” said John Harley, vice president of sales and marketing for Anthony Vineyards in Bakersfield, CA, Aug. 11. “We are about ready to take advantage of that over the next few weeks. Hopefully it will stay that way for at least that long.”

Strong prices this year in the juice grape market and the raisin market should help put a floor under the fresh market prices, he said.

“I do expect the export demand to stay very strong,” said Shaun Ricks, president of The Grape Guys in Cutler, CA. “There is a lot of interest on everything for export,” but “it has to be the right fruit.”