“Stevco’s program is set up to where a large percentage of our volume is shipped in the fall, during the months of September through December,” said Jared Lane, vice president of sales and marketing.
Stevco is a year-round shipper of grapes, both imported and domestic, from various growing regions, but the company’s major production area is California‘s southern San Joaquin Valley. The company, which is headquartered in Los Angeles, has a sales office and cooling and packing facility just north of Bakersfield, CA, as well as branch locations in other producing areas. The Bakersfield facility has undergone recent expansion, with further expansion planned, to accommodate increased volume as newly planted acreage comes into bearing.
“We have added acreage this year in Scarlet Royal, Autumn King and Vintage Red,” said Mr. Lane. Because of that, “the overall volume will be up. We haven’t taken out any vineyards. We just put in new plantings” with a majority of the increases being in varieties “harvested later in the season.”
Stevco’s largest-volume varieties for the September-through-December period are Scarlet Royal, Crimson and Red Globe, according to Mr. Lane. Princess, a green seedless variety that starts earlier, is also major variety for the company. It is in peak production throughout August and will continue into mid-September, he said.
“Scarlet Royals have increased the biggest percentage in volume” this year and also represents the biggest increase in acreage, he said. Vintage Red is new for the company this year.
“The Autumn King is a grape that has become very well received” by both export and domestic customers, he said.
“Movement has been good” to date on all varieties, Mr. Lane said. But it is “a little too early in the season for me to make a judgment” about what to expect for the late season. “I can only tell you what August brings, not what October brings. It is too far away” to make those determinations.
“The overall quality of all the varieties being harvested looks very nice,” he said. “The size is good. The color has been good on the Flames.” He expects good quality to continue “through the Princess, the Red Globes, and all the way up the line.”
The addition of newer varieties gives customers a wider range of choices than in the past. “We used to just have Crimsons” for a late red seedless grape, Mr. Lane said. “Now you have four or five different varieties” to choose from.
The same is true with the green seedless varieties, he said. “You used to have Princess and Thompson. Now you’ve got the Luisco, the Autumn King,” and others.
“It is a challenge for all of the producers to culturally farm them right and also for the buyers to know which one they like and which one the consumer is going to like. Everybody seems to do it a little differently,” he said. The farming and development of the new varieties is “the biggest challenge in the industry today.”
It is not Mr. Lane’s expectation that any one variety will “rise to the top.” Rther, it is that several of them may find their place. But the important thing is to grow them right. “I think if you farm each variety correctly, you will put a better eating piece of fruit on the table than if you try to cut corners.”
As a company, “we are really high on the Scarlet Royal,” he added. “It is one of our favorites right now.” But it does need to get picked when it reaches a high sugar level “in order to make it a good eating piece of fruit.”
One benefit Stevco has to offer its customers is the company’s house packing capability, Mr. Lane explained. Many of the grapes are placed loose into pick tubs in the field and brought into the packinghouse for packing. “That allows us to make basically a pack that is impeccable, that is clean” and that will “hold up on the shelf.”
Stevco’s late-season grapes are generally available until the end of December and “sometimes into January,” he said.