BAKERSFIELD, CA — The Maricopa district, located on the west edge of California’s San Joaquin Valley at its southern extremity, is among the earliest districts in the valley for grape production, but it also does well with late-season varieties. For Stevco, which is headquartered in Los Angeles with branch offices located here and in Coachella, CA, and a seasonal sales office in Nogales, AZ, the Maricopa district is the major focus for the company’s acreage and variety expansion.
Most of Stevco’s new plantings recently have been in Maricopa, where the company, Jared Lane, vice president of sales and marketing, said July 11. “The ground out there is extremely fertile,” he said. “They haven’t had permanent crops in the ground, so it hasn’t been depleted of any of its nutrients. We have enough acreage, and we have a surplus of water, too, from ground water.” The grapes “do better out there.”
Stevco has been increasing its volume at a rate of more than 10 percent a year over the last three years, Mr. Lane said.
The company’s biggest increase this year will be in the Scarlet Royal variety, which “we have doubled in production since last year,” he said. “We have also increased in Autumn King, and this will be our first crop of Vintage Red.”
“And we will continue to grow” at a steady rate in coming seasons, said David Clyde, president. “We have some open ground in Maricopa which we will plant.”
To accommodate the growth, Stevco is also expanding its physical facilities at Bakersfield grape shipping and cold storage facility here, which is located north of the city. “We have added racks to our storage this year,” said Mr. Lane. In addition, new offices were being built within the facility. Those were within about a week of completion.
At the end of the season, “we will build at least two more cold storage rooms” to the facility, Mr. Clyde said.
Prior to the start of the San Joaquin Valley grape deal, Stevco handles grapes out of both Coachella and Mexico. “We had a very good deal this spring” out of both Coachella and Mexico, said Mr. Clyde.”
“We had our best season we have ever had” in those deals, added Mr. Lane.
The transition from those deals to the San Joaquin Valley grape deal this year is characterized by “a small gap” in fruit availability, he said. “It is “not a major gap, but … the prices have been a little higher than normal” as a consequence.
The crops in Mexico and Coachella were “a little short,” he said, but in addition “the demand was a lot higher, I think due to the lack of competing fruit.”
Prices are, therefore, “starting out higher” for the start of the San Joaquin Valley grape deal “than they normally are,” Mr. Clyde said. “That will probably carry forward for a little bit of time until the pipeline fills up.”
Stevco expected to harvest its first grapes in the valley, Sugraones and Flames, July 14.
“Up here, the quality looks very nice,” Mr. Lane said. “But it’s not going to come off as quick as it normally does. We probably will have to pick the [Sugraones] three or four times.” Some fruit is still very immature and still growing, and other bunches in the same vineyards are “mature and ready to come off, and that is pretty typical of all varieties.”
However, bunch formation and quality look “really nice,” he said.
Princess is the company’s second-largest volume grape variety, next to Red Globe, and “our peak will be on Princess this year,” Mr. Lane said. They will come off “right after Sugraone,” and “we will peak the entire month of August.” The hope is that the Sugraones “can get out of the way. That is the plan.”
In red varieties, from Flames, Stevco will “move into Scarlet Royals” around Aug. 8, he said. Summer Royals, a black seedless variety, were expected to start a week later.
Red Globes were expected to start around Aug. 2, “and then Scarlet Royals,” Mr. Clyde said. In addition, “we have Crimsons, Autumn Kings and Vintage Reds,” all of which will come “later in the fall.”