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Record 100.8 million box California grape crop projected; possible vintage quality

FRESNO, CA — The California Table Grape Commission, here, in a commission meeting July 19, adopted an official estimate for the 2012 California grape crop of 100.8 million boxes, 19-pound equivalent, breaking the 100-million-box mark for the first time ever.

If the crop comes in and ships out as expected, it will, edge out the previous record in 2010 of 97.8 million boxes.

The 2008 and 2011 crops also approached but fell short of the 100-million-box mark, coming in at 97 million boxes and 96.9 million boxes respectively.

In the San Joaquin Valley, the 028-CalGrapes-Crop-SweetScaseason start for most growers was running close to normal timing but 10 days to two weeks ahead of the previous two years, both of which were late.

Overall quality on the early harvest was exceptional, and growers anticipated continued outstanding quality throughout the season if the weather continued to cooperate. They are generally reticent to use the word "vintage" to describe a crop until at least the preponderance of the crop has been harvested, because weather extremes such as a severe, prolonged heat wave can have an adverse effect on the condition of the fruit. But several growers told The Produce News that the potential is there for a vintage year if Mother Nature doesn't intervene.

An earlier start and good-quality fruit will do much to help move the large crop, they said.

There are increased plantings of newer varieties of seedless grapes, particularly for the late season but also for mid-season, including numerous proprietary varieties from private breeding programs. That will help even out the peaks and spread the harvest more evenly into the fall season, according to John Harley, vice president of sales and marketing for Anthony Vineyards in Bakersfield, CA. "There has been Thompson acreage pulled out" and replaced, to a large extent, with plantings of late season green seedless grapes such as Autumn King and Luisco. That will put fresher grapes in the market for the latter months of the year than was the case when storage Thompsons dominated that window.

"These [new] varieties were bred for that fall harvest, and they are bred for storability," Mr. Harley said. "They can do it."

The harvest was underway in the southern San Joaquin Valley when The Produce News talked to Jim Llano, sales manager at Castle Rock Vineyards in Richgrove, CA, July 9. According to the company's field staff, the condition, size and eating quality of Sugraones in particular, so far, was some of the best they had seen in a long time, he said. While "no one has come out and said," yet, that it was vintage quality, the potential was there. "I think we'll call it a vintage year as we are well into it and we can say this is going to finish really well."

"We think the quality this year, across the board, looks good," said Atomic Torosian, an owner at Crown Jewels Produce Co. in Fresno. "I think that is going to help movement."

"The fruit looks fantastic. It really does," said Louie Galvan, a partner in Fruit Royale Inc. in Delano, CA, July 10. "Let's hope Mother Nature cooperates with us, because if it keeps going the way it looks now, then we are going to have a vintage year with size and quality and condition of the grapes, which will be a nice change after last year. Last year was a bit difficult."

"It is a great crop this year," said Angela Eastham, who is on the sales desk at Pacific Trellis Fruit LLC in Reedley, CA. "Production looks like it is going to be on schedule for very good size and quality. We haven't had any weather issues. It looks like it is going to be a good season."

"I think we are looking at a very nice crop here this year," said Chris Gardella, who is on sales with R.B. Sandrini Inc. in Delano. "I think that in general we are, and I think the trade is, and I think that the consumer is going to enjoy some very nice grapes through the balance of the summer and into the fall. The trade needs to know that there are going to be promotable quantities of very nice quality [grapes] this year for the consumer."

"Everything is two weeks earlier than last year, and is probably a week earlier than what I would consider normal for us," said Sean Stockton, president of Sundale Sales Inc. in Tulare, CA, July 10. "Color on the red grapes is coming fast, and quality is outstanding. You are going to see excellent quality on the later varieties" such as Crimson, Scarlet Royal and Autumn King. "Everything looks absolutely primed and positioned in the field to have fantastic quality, so we are obviously very excited about the season and what we have in store."

Everything is 15 days earlier, and it is looking like a vintage crop, said Nick Dulcich, a partner in J.P. Dulcich & Sons in Delano, CA, July 13. "We've had dry weather. We've had warm weather, in contrast to the last two years." The vines and the grapes were all looking good, and "everything seems to be a nice balance out there."

The fruit seems to be stronger than last year and is more consistent in size and color, said Kevin Beno, president of Fresh Buyers Inspections Inc. in Visalia, CA, July 7. "If we have good quality, the fruit will move pretty consistently, and from what we are seeing" so far out of the San Joaquin Valley, "it has been real nice. Hopefully it will stay that way into August and into the late deal."

The Mexico and Coachella, CA, grape deals this spring "for us were a challenge," with supplies "all over the board" and higher-than-normal pricing for much of the season, said Cary Crum, vice president of Green Tree International Inc. in Visalia, CA, July 9. In the San Joaquin Valley so far, "the quality that we have seen is just outstanding, and that will "really help make the crop move better." A "fairly mild spring and an early summer" provided "ideal growing conditions for table grapes. Here in the valley, I think we are going to see a very nice crop of all the varieties."