John Harley, sales manager for Anthony Vineyards Inc. in Bakersfield, CA, told The Produce News that as increasing numbers of retailers learn about the company’s consistent organic supplies, more are embracing having seasonal California grapes.
Mr. Harley added that this opportunity was not available as recently as just five years ago, and is what “brought [Anthony Vineyards] to the organic table,” he said, adding that “no other company is positioned to do this.”
Its farming operations in the Coachella Valley in Southern California and in the San Joaquin Valley in Central California enables it to produce seasonal grapes without gaps during the season.
Anthony Vineyards produces both and organic and conventional red, white and black grapes. Mr. Harley explained how the multi-generation firm entered the organic market.
“Domenick, who is known as Cookie, is one of the owners of Anthony Vineyards,” said Mr. Harley. “He came to me several years ago and asked if I thought we could sell organic grapes. I didn’t know, but I said we could certainly try. He purchased a 360-acre ranch that was already being farmed organically, and he decided to leave it organic. Our organic line has increased consistently since that time.”
Mr. Bianco’s brother, Robert, or Bobby as he is known, is co-owner of the company. Their American story started when their father, Anthony A. Bianco, immigrated to New York City from Italy when he was 18.
Mr. Bianco Sr. originally bought and sold fresh produce from a pushcart on the streets of New York City, and ultimately opened a marketing and distribution office at the New York Produce Market.
About 24 years later he moved with his family to Fresno, CA, to be closer to the grapes and tree fruit that he would sell through his New York office.
In the late 1950s, he was proclaimed, “Juice Grape King of the United States,” by the New Yorker magazine. Today, Anthony Vineyards’ land holdings are at more than 6,500 acres. It grows all varieties of table grapes.
“Cookie once told me that prior to World War II, everything was grown organically,” said Mr. Harley. “When we purchased the organic ranch we had a close customer who was interested in our organic program and assisted us in the marketing and development of the crop. After one season we decided that if we were going to stay in organics, we would focus on weekly production throughout California’s season, from May through November, in order to provide consistent supplies to our customers.”
Mr. Harley said that the company was a little concerned about what the down economy would do to the organic market.
“Last year demand went flat, and we questioned if people would stay engaged in organics because of the premium they demand,” he said. “But we saw an uptick this year, and we found that people who buy organic grapes are not worried about the economy — they choose organics as a lifestyle choice.”
Anthony Vineyards is a fully integrated company. It owns its acreage and it processes, cools, warehouses and markets its product.
The company ships its organic grapes under the “Anthony’s Organics” label. It ships to all points in the country and into Canada.
Anthony Vineyards has also exported to foreign countries, including Singapore, where shipments go by airfreight due to the distance and consequential time product would spend in transit.
“Crop conditions are great this year,” said Mr. Harley. “We had a slow start in Coachella Valley due to the unseasonably mild weather. In May we had what is called a 90-year glow, so mild that it hasn’t happened in many years. But as we moved into June we were progressing nicely.”
The company also produces Medjool and Deglet Noor dates.
“We are currently in the process of developing organic dates,” said Mr. Harley. “We look forward to being able to provide these to our retail customers in the future.”