Cool air fans Coachella flames

06/30/2011 01:42:00 PM
Dan Gailbraith

Cool weather brought on color fast in flames grown in California’s Coachella Valley and Mexico, sending heavy volumes of the red seedless grapes to market early in the deal in May.

“We picked 90% of it in six days, that’s how much color there was,” said Steve Root, president and chief executive officer of Coachella, Calif.-based East West Unlimited LLC, which started picking flames May 12.

“Normally you’re just scratching, color picking it,” he said. “We went in heavy.”

East West Unlimited expected to be done by the second or third week of June, but others in Coachella started later and could go up to about July 10, when the action shifts to places such as Arvin.

Castle Rock Vineyards, Delano, Calif., planned to ship from the Coachella region starting the first week of June.

Castle Rock planned to kick off the deal with flames, followed by sugraones, summer royals, thompsons and scarlett royals.

King Fresh Marketing LLC, Dinuba, Calif., expected to start shipping about June 20 from Coachella.

“There’s been a glut of red grapes,” Root said.

“Mexico came on with the color real fast, too. They expected them a week or two later. The week before Memorial Day, they had 400,000 boxes of flames a day and the market wasn’t ready for it. Shippers didn’t have rooms in their coolers because of their watermelons, and they just dropped the price maybe $10 a box. It was down to $12 overnight.”

Coachella Valley growers typically produce 80,000 to 90,000 boxes a day of flames, Root said.

Size and color were excellent, he said. There just wasn’t a lot left over after the early flurry.

Rick Paul, table grapes category director for Sun World International LLC, Bakersfield, Calif., said downward price pressure from Mexico was not unusual.

Sun World markets grapes out of both regions.

“Mexico has a bigger influence,” Paul said.

“Twenty years ago, the supply situation was almost completely the opposite of what it is today. When I started, Coachella Valley was 16 million, 17 million boxes and Mexico was 4 million. Last year, Mexico was 17 million and Coachella, 6.6 million.”

Taken together, the Mexico deals in Hermosillo and Caborca parallel Coachella Valley’s to within a few days, running from early May to early July.

But the same weather that fanned flames put the brakes on green grapes.

“The superior seedless or sugraone variety is being harvested at a slower rate,” Paul said.


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