STOCKTON, Calif. — Spurred by a warm spring, the California table grape season got off to an early start and is firing on all cylinders heading into the second half of its season after Labor Day.
The California Table Grape Commission issued its initial crop forecast of 116.5 million 19-pound boxes on May 9. If it proves true, it will be close to last season’s record 117.4 million boxes.
“So we’re going to have plenty of fruit all the way into January,” said Kathleen Nave, president of the Fresno-based commission.
Up to two-thirds of the crop actually is harvested and marketed after Labor Day, she said.
When this season will begin winding down will depend on when the San Joaquin Valley, where most of the state’s table grapes are grown, sees heavy rains, say growers, packers and marketers.
Even then, operations, such as Sundale Sales, Tulare, have extensive vineyard covering programs to protect late-season fruit and help extend the season. But those fall rains may be a bit more welcome this year.
“We can only hope that California gets a bucket of rain this coming fall — that’s probably a bigger issue than anything, water and its limited availability,” said Sean Stockton, president of Sundale Sales.
Sundale is in a district that received a zero surface water allocation this year. As a result, it plans to drill seven additional wells as soon as equipment becomes available, he said.
George Matoian, sales and marketing director for Kingsburg-based Visalia Produce Sales Inc., said the warm spring and lack of rain created optimum conditions for quality table grapes, and he doesn’t expect that to change heading into the fall.
“The crop quality has been excellent, and I think we’ll see that all the way through the season,” he said. “The hot, dry summer bodes well for the sugar and brix level of the grapes.”
Flames will begin to taper off in September, with scarlet royals and crimsons replacing them in the red category. Visalia Produce also will have the green autumn king and the black autumn royal.
With tree fruit harvest also starting early this year, Matoian said most of that fruit should be out of the market shortly after Labor Day, opening up more opportunities for table grapes.
“I think we’re going to have all of that month, for the most part, to ourselves as far as big promotion numbers,” he said. “There will still be some tree fruit available, but it won’t be in big enough numbers to promote. But we should still have a big, strong supply of grapes.”
Atomic Torosian, a partner in Crown Jewels Produce LLC, agreed and said his firm will “still be rockin’ along” with California table grapes until about the first week of December.
“We have some good quality fruit and are packing more and more in clamshells and (high-graphic) plastic bags,” he said.
The Fresno-based marketer will offer a host of later-season varieties, including crimson, autumn king, autumn royal, scarlet royal, Krissy red seedless and vintage red, Torosian said.
Justin Bedwell, president of Madera-based Bari Produce LLC, said there should be plenty of grapes after Labor Day, particularly some of the newer varieties that peak during the second half of the season.
Bari Produce is handling a lot more of the scarlet royal and autumn king.
“The nice thing about (autumn king) is it’s bigger and tastes better, but the production also is better,” he said.
Stockton said Sundale’s season was just getting started in mid-July, but quality was good. The grower-packer, which is heavy in the later-season varieties, plans to increase overall volume by about 10% this season.
Stockton said he also expected to see continued growth of Sundale’s bicolor and tricolor clamshell packs put up at its in-house pack facility. The multicolor packs are available in 2, 3 and 4 pounds.