FRESNO, Calif. — New is a relative term when it comes to grape varieties.
Thompson seedless, for example, has been yielding ground for some years to grapes such as autumn king, sugraones and Sun World’s Superior Seedless.
Even with more recent varieties, most have been around a few years.
As newer grapes become the norm, the focus shifts toward maximizing quality and volume. But growers continue to try out less familiar cultivars.
“As the table grape business goes from a few varieties to where varieties are the flavor of the week, we need to focus more on moving them when they’re optimum as opposed to trying to keep them around longer,” said John Pandol, special projects director for Delano-based Pandol Bros. Inc.
“Breeding programs make a big deal about picking them sweet enough. To pick a grape until it’s old is counterproductive,” he said.
“Everybody last year saw fantastic numbers in California (grapes) at retail in both volume and dollars,” he said. “People reported double-digit increases over the prior year. Part of that is freshness.”
Pandol Bros. starts shipping a proprietary red, Sweet Celebration, in mid- to late-August.
“We’re the biggest grower of that in the world,” Pandol said. “We’re promoting that for the Labor Day ad period and all of September.
"Like a lot of new varieties, it’ll take us 10 or 20 years to realize its full potential. One of our ideas is to see if we can pick it earlier with the same results,” he said.
Once again in 2013, thompson seedless is taking some hits even as plenty remains in production.
Castle Rock Vineyards has eliminated thompson seedless from its program in Arvin and Delano but kept it in Coachella.
“With late-deal greens, autumn king is coming into greater prominence in our program,” said Jim Llano, account sales manager. “Princess, as well, and sugraones.”
“Specialty patented varieties like Pristine are taking the play away from thompson seedless,” said Jay Stover, salesman at Kingsburg-based Empire Grape Co. LLC.
Pristine was developed by Delano Farms Co.
At Crown Jewels Produce, the Krissy red grape will be added to the commercial lineup in mid- to late-July, said Atomic Torosian, managing partner.
“The two red grapes that have really come on great in the last five years are scarlet royal and vintage (red),” Stover said.
“There are half a dozen other red seedless varieties in various stages of development. Most are patented or proprietary varieties.”
Reedley-based Bravante Produce, which packs under the Sunkist label, is planning trials of valley pearl, a U.S. Department of Agriculture and California Table Grape Commission green seedless variety.
“Like everybody else, we’re taking out thompson and adding more productive varieties,” said Ron Wikum, grape category manager at Bravante Produce.