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New Central Valley grape marketing firm opens

Peter Vallis, former partner in Farmer's Fresh Fruit Co. in Reedley, CA, and his wife, Demitra Vallis, have opened a new marketing company representing grape growers in California's Central Valley.

Called Empire Grape Co. LLC, the new entity, which officially launched Feb. 6, is based in Kingsburg, CA.

Handling sales for Empire Grape are Jay Stover and Susan Lucas.

Mr. Stover, who was also previously with Farmer's Fresh, started his produce career at the Empire-Grapes-TeamSusan Lucas, Jay Stover, Demitra Vallis and Peter Vallis of Empire Grape Co. LLC.Hunts Point Terminal Market in the Bronx, NY, while he was still in high school. He later went to work for Mendelson-Zeller in California and subsequently worked for Sunniland Fruit Inc. in Stockton, CA, and then Hurst's Berry Farm in Sheridan, OR. Following that, he joined Sierra View Sales Inc. in Fresno, CA, then spent 10 years on the sales desk at Fazio Marketing Inc. in Fresno before joining Farmer's Fresh In Jan. 2012.

"Susan has been in the produce business for 30 years or so" and has owned her own business in the past, Mr. Stover said.

"It's nice and refreshing to have people [on sales] who know the business and are moving forward. It is really fantastic," said Ms. Vallis, who is operations manager for the new company.

Although she and her husband are grape growers, the company will not just be selling their own grapes but will be handling product from "a variety of growers."

The product will be marketed under the "Empire" label.

"We are going to have a full lineup of grapes — all the recent and popular varieties, from Flames all the way through Crimsons," Mr. Stover said. The offerings will also include specialty grape varieties such as California Concord, Tomcord and Niabel, he said.

Mr. Vallis's "entire background has been grapes," Ms. Vallis said. "He has spent his entire life growing grapes, picking grapes, everything from the bottom up, with his family."

Ms. Vallis, who is originally from Colorado, had a finance background prior to meting her husband and moving to California. Since then, however, "I have been trying to learn as much as I possibly can about the industry, which is an exciting industry," she said.

In the new venture, her own finance background "and Peter's background in grapes provide a perfect synergy," she said.

"Then when Susan and Jay came along, with their expertise, we can take everyone's knowledge and background and form this phenomenal team and move forward and do some really good things," she said.

"As far as Empire Grape goes, our overall goal is to do right," Ms. Vallis said. "As we are sitting here putting things together, the words 'do things right' keep coming up. We want to make sure that we do the grower right, we do the industry right, we do our company right. We are doing the very, very best that we possibly can for everyone involved."