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New Columbine Vineyards cold storage to increase capacity, reduce precooling time

A new cold storage facility at Columbine Vineyards in Delano, CA, will double grape storage capacity for the company and will also “help us with precooling and the turnaround on grapes from the fields,” according to Anthony Stetson, sales manager.

“We built the new facility on our property right her adjacent to our old one,” Stetson told The Produce News May 30. “The structure is completed” and finishing touches were in process. “It will be ready to go when we start harvesting here the end of June.”

The facility is a little over 200,000 square feet in size and will have eight loading docks with the capability of increasing that to 12 if needed, in addition to the five docks on the current facility, Stetson said.

04-EarlySJV-Columbine-cooleColumbine Vineyards’ new 200,000-square-foot cooler under construction. (Photo courtesy of Columbine Vineyards)An innovative new precooling system is designed into the facility “with smaller precoolers, so we are going to be able to turn the fruit faster,” he said. Instead of taking from eight hours to as much as 10 hours to precool a room full of fruit, “we should be able to turn fruit in four to six hours.” In part, that is because it takes less time to fill up the room and then to unload it.

The 2014 grape crop was coming on about 10 to 12 days earlier than normal for the company, Stetson said. “We will be picking Flames in Arvin” probably by around Monday, June 23rd, and out of Delano by the end of that week. He expects to start Sugraones the first of July. Summer Royal black seedless grapes will not get going until about mid- to late July for Columbine, “because we only have them here in Delano.”

The company will continue picking grapes in the San Joaquin Valley through about the middle of December, depending on weather. “Last year, we went until December 4 before we had a freeze,” Stetson said.

Overall, the company expects a similar volume for 2013 to what it had last year. However, “we do have more acreage of a new variety called Milano” which is “our own proprietary green variety.” The timing of the variety is September and October. That variety will have its own designated advertising program and its own logo, “just like we do for Holiday,” he said. “It will be a component of our proprietary mix for the fall season.”

For the early season, the company continues to have principally the Flame, Sugraone and Summer Royal varieties. “We have tried a few of the Sheegene-21 for the early season,” however, and that may have possibilities for future season. It is a patented green seedless variety from Williams Nursery that matures in early July in the San Joaquin Valley. “It is something we are experimenting with,” Stetson said.

In packaging, Columbine has modified its design for stand-up pouch bags, lowering the use of plastic in the bag by 6.4 percent “by eliminating the tear-off over the top of the bag” where the wicket holes were previously. Now, the wicket holes are below the zipper and there is no waste remaining on the wicket when the bags are removed, he explained.

Columbine will have “a full lineup” of high-graphics stand-up bags available for all grape varieties, he said. The bags for proprietary varieties such as the Holiday, the Black Globe, and — net year— the Milano will be variety-specific.