An early start, a fairly large crop and excellent quality should characterize this year’s Coachella Valley table grape deal, grower-shippers say. Robert Bianco, co-owner of Anthony Vineyards in Coachella, Calif., seems especially pleased with the coming season, which he predicts will be “an extraordinarily good year.” Temperatures usually hit peaks and valleys, he said. But this year, they’ve consistently stayed in the 70- to 85-degree range, which could result in one of the earliest starts the valley has seen in years. “I don’t remember such a good year,” he said. Anthony Vineyards should start picking sugraones and flame varieties by May 7, if not sooner, Bianco said in early April. “We’ve had very good growing weather — no major problems at all.” About the only thing he could have asked for is more rain. As of April 16, the valley had received only 1.7 inches of rain since July 1 — about one-third of normal. Early start, more volume? Bianco said the valley could produce up to 9 million boxes of grapes this season, about 500,000 boxes more than last year due to new acreage. The season could start a week to 10 days earlier than last year for Peter Rabbit Farms in Coachella, said John Burton, general manager of sales and cooler. He attributed the early start primarily to warm nights and mild days. The company will start with perlettes during the first week to 10 days of May, followed a few days later by flames, then sugraones around May 20 and black grapes by late May. “We’ll have all four of them going by the end of May,” he said. Conditions look promising, Burton said in early April. “We’re happy with the vine growth, the plants look good, and there are no major weather issues that would create any problems.” It was too early to accurately predict the size of the crop, however. “At this point, we’re looking at it being as good as or slightly better than last year’s harvest numbers,” he said. Peter Rabbit Farms expects to ship table grapes through the end of June. Los Angeles-based Stevco Inc. will start with flames around May 20, three or four days earlier than usual, said president Dave Clyde. That could change if the weather cools, he added. Quality looks good this season, and the crop should be a bit larger than last year, he said. Richard Bagdasarian Inc. in Mecca, Calif., will kick off its season with perlettes the week of May 7, said president Nick Bozick. Early flames will start three or four days later. The company also will offer sugraone, beauty seedless, thompson, princess and scarlet royal varieties. “The quality looks good so far,” Bozick said in early April. “The growing weather has been very mild and very consistent.” Bagdasarian will ship about 1 million boxes of grapes into mid-July. Bozick expects to have even more scarlet royals in July in future seasons. Drop-off in perlettes One variety the valley won’t be seeing too many of is the perlette. Stevco no longer ships perlettes because they don’t sell well and some grocery chains won’t take them, Clyde said. Only a few desert growers produce perlettes anymore, he said. Bianco estimates that only about 20 acres are left in the Coachella Valley. “Perlettes got to be too expensive to grow,” he said. “You can’t get enough yield, and the costs (of maintenance) were so high.” The perlette, he said, “is a grape that has seen its day.” Peter Rabbit Farms finishes its perlettes around May 20 and goes right into sugraones, Burton said. Bagdasarian has a small block of perlettes to give the company some green grapes to kick off the season, Bozick said. The firm can break even on perlettes if they come out in front of the market, he said. “We want to have some early greens,” he said.
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