Earliest-ever Sonora grape season will see lower volumesHERMOSILLO, Mexico  In what Juan Laborin called "the earliest year ever" for the Sonoran grape crop, volumes should be down more than 10% due to weather issues.

Laborin, general manager of AALPUM, which represents Mexican table grape producers, addressing industry members at the Sonora Grape Summit April 25, said he expects about 1.77 million fewer 19-pound boxes to ship out of the region in 2014. After an estimate of 17 million cartons in 2013, that crop wound up at 15.99 million cartons. Laborin predicts this year’s crop at about 14.22 million boxes.

“It’s all due to weather,” Laborin said. “We had less chilling hours than normal and higher daytime temperatures almost all the way through … But it could be worse.”

Laborin said at least the crop’s quality appears to be good and peak volume should hit early enough for Memorial Day promotions, an opinion with which John Pandol, special projects director for Pandol Bros., Delano, Calif., concurred after he and about 200 other grape industry members toured two vineyards near Hermosillo on April 24.

“Berry size looks good. Bunch size is small, but that doesn’t really matter, from a consumer standpoint,” Pandol said. “I haven’t seen anything alarming. I look for a good season, with great opportunities for the retail trade.”

What’s more, the short crop shouldn’t be problematic for retailers looking for Mexican grape supplies in May.

“On the one end, there are fewer grapes. But we’ll have 2 million to 2.5 million grapes a week going into Memorial Day, which is normal,” Pandol said. “We’ll just need to make sure we get our share of shelf space.”

Peak volume for Sonoran grape import to the U.S. typically hits in June, but this year’s peak should hit in mid- to late May, Laborin said.

“It all points to maybe 65% of volume hitting in May,” he said. “More or less, we’re talking about seven to 10 days earlier.”

Peak retail promotional time should hit from May 19 to June 8 for perlettes and May 19 through June 22 for flames. Perlette volumes should be down overall from 2.11 million boxes in 2013 to 1.8 million cartons this year. Flame volumes are projected to fall from 7.74 million cartons to 6.8 million, while sugraones should decline from 3.68 million to an even 3 million; and red globes will be down from 919,451 cartons to about 800,000. However, Laborin noted there is about an 18% margin for error on the early-season estimates.

Helping the Sonora grape outlook this year is the fact that Chilean grape inventory is down, Pandol said.

Typically, about 80% of Sonoran product ships to the U.S. and Canada.