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Most California grape varieties continue to be early, with excellent quality

The 2013 California table grape harvest started one to two weeks earlier than normal on most early varieties for many growers in the San Joaquin Valley. That earliness continued through the mid-season varieties and in general appeared likely to continue through the later varieties as well, although some growers say the later varieties are looking closer to normal timing.

Quality has been exceptional so far this year, contributing to strong movement on what is expected to be a very large crop, possibly a second successive record year. In spite of the large crop, some say the combination of earliness and strong movement could bring the season to a somewhat earlier finish than usual for some varieties, but other growers expect to continue shipping well into December and even into January with certain late-season varieties.

023-FallFruit-Crop-AutumnRoAutumn Royal is the most widely grown black seedless grape for the fall season. (Photo by Rand Green)Aggressive planting in recent years of several newer late-season varieties, from both industry-funded and private breeding programs, which are regarded as having exceptional characteristics, are increasing the varietal options as well as the available volume for the fall period.

"Everything looks really good," said John Harley, vice president of sales and marketing at Anthony Vineyards Inc. in Bakersfield, CA, Aug. 8. There was a hot spell in late June and early July, but other than affecting the company's Red Globes a bit, it didn't seem to cause any other problems.

The colored fall grapes seem to be coloring a little earlier this year than they have in years past, Harley said.

In the early part of the season, everything was two weeks early, and one variety was "rushing in ... on top of another," said Jay Stover, a salesman at Empire Grape Co. LLC in Dinuba, CA, Aug. 9. "It appears that the fall is looking similar" but "maybe not quite as early," he said. Crop size for the fall varieties was looking normal.

"Early on, we had very cool weather. Then as we got through spring, we hit a hot spell" with a record number of days over 100 degrees, said Anthony Stetson, sales manager at Columbine Vineyards in Delano. Yet the grapes appeared to have survived the heat well, and "overall it wasn't a bad thing."

Many varieties continue to be early, with good sugars and good color, said Nick Dulcich, a partner in J.P. Dulcich & Sons and president of Sunlight International Sales Inc. in Delano, Aug. 6. "The fruit really eats well." Red Globes, for example, which started just the day prior, were at 19 Brix, compared with a usual Brix of 15 or 16 at start of harvest, and "they eat like candy."

Market prices were aggressive, Dulcich said, "but the movement seems to be there. August 5 was our biggest shipping day" so far. Retailers were "starting to put ads together," he said.

Good weather seems to have set the crop up perfectly for the late season," said Louis Scattaglia, managing partner at Scattaglia Growers & Shippers LLC in Traver, CA. "The size of the berries and the quality of the crop are excellent. Color is good. It just seems like it is going to be a great year for the retail trade to promote grapes ... starting in September" and not breaking stride all the way through to the end of the season. "For us, anyway, we hope to be shipping grapes into January," he said.

Louie Galvan, a partner in Fruit Royale Inc. in Delano, said Aug. 12 that he recently returned from a trip across the country and saw grape promotions in every store he visited. The grapes are "good, they are crunchy, they're sweet," and as long as "the fruit stays like that" and retailers continue to offer the grapes at good prices, "there is no reason why we can't manage this crop."

Unlike some years in August, "we're not packin' and stackin,' " Galvan said. "There is no major backup. The floors are relatively clean. Exporters are stepping in" taking Globes and Scarlets, and domestically Crimsons and Princess were moving "in a good fashion." As quickly as the grapes are moving, Fruit Royale could be finished with most varieties by around Thanksgiving, he said.

For Stevco, "it seems like the later varieties are more normal timing" and not quite as early as early season varieties like Flame and Sugraone were, said Jared Lane, vice president of sales and marketing, Aug. 5. "We were 10 days to two weeks earlier. Now we are only three to four days earlier."

The crop looks "fantastic," and everything is sizing well, said Sean Stockton, president of Sundale Sales Inc. in Tulare, CA, with particular reference to the Autumn King variety Aug. 8.

As an indication of how early the season is, he said, the company was already starting to harvest Scarlet Royals and Crimsons and expected to pack Sundale Reds around the end of August. However, he expected the packing of those varieties to continue "all the way through October."

Even though there has been some hot weather this year, "we have had lows in the 60s, and that has given us a nice variance between daytime and nighttime temperatures, said Jim Llano, sales manager at Castle Rock Vineyards in Richgrove, CA, Aug. 9. He expects outstanding quality and condition on the fall varieties.