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The Grape Guys will be up in volume with continued focus on red varieties

CUTLER, CA — “We consider ourselves [primarily] a red house in that we are heaviest to Flames and Crimsons,” Shaun Ricks, president of The Grape Guys, here, said July 7. “But we do have a chunk of Thompsons, and we are pretty optimistic about the Thompson deal this year.”

The Thompson is “a grape that has kind of been pushed to the side a little bit,” he said. “There are not a lot of people planting Thompsons,” as they are being replaced with some newer green seedless varieties such as Autumn King. “And we have some of those,” he said. But “I personally happen to feel that [Thompson] is the best seedless grape out there.”

The problem is that Thompsons are “not easy to grow and they are rather expensive to grow. Other varieties are easier to grow and cheaper, so they are the ones that are coming into favor.”

The Grape Guys will still have “a chunk of Thompsons this year, about 300,000 [boxes], and we expect the market to be good,” he said.

The firm’s total grape volume will be up this year, Mr. Ricks said. “Last year, we did about two million boxes. Our estimate for this year is over that — I would say 2.2 million to 2.4 million.” Part of that growth is “from within,” and part is from “one additional grower that we didn’t have last year.”

This year, “for the first time in a few years, we are back in Arvin,” CA, he said. “We have some early acreage in Arvin and some early acreage in Maricopa, the two earliest districts” in the San Joaquin Valley. “We expect to start both of those” around July 11-13. “Our expectation is the fruit will have good color. The sugars seem to be coming along pretty well. We see size that is normal for those earliest districts.”

He expected the markets to open with “pretty good money,” in the high $20s. “Then the market will decline,” probably leveling off to “the mid to upper teens by the 25th” of July.

In “our particular program here at The Grape Guys,” Mr. Ricks said, “we have fruit from Arvin to Madera” which is “probably as wide a harvesting range as anybody.”

Among the newer varieties being shipped by The Grape guys, in addition to the Autumn King, are Vintage Red and Scarlet Royal. Those are “the three varieties that we have investment in” and “see ourselves growing in over time,” Mr. Ricks said.

“I like the varieties,” he continued. However, “I have a modest concern about the Autumn King” because it has a “more neutral flavor” and is “not as sweet” as some others. “I am not sure that it is the direction the consumers would have us go if they had their say.” With so much focus being put on all of the other advantages of some of the newer varieties, from size and appearance to ease of growing and high productivity, “it is easy to forget that eventually someone is going to eat this fruit. And they are going to want more or not depending on what their experience was.”

Mr. Ricks said that he has become increasingly aware lately that when “the fruit tastes good and people enjoy eating it, I believe it literally translates into a better market.”