California grape growers expect record crop

07/01/2013 11:24:00 AM
Mike Hornick

FRESNO, Calif. — California should see a record grape crop of 106.9 million 19-pound box equivalents — up from 100.2 million in 2012 — if an estimate by the California Table Grape Commission holds up.

That projection could edge downward by July 25, when the commission makes its final estimate.

But record or not, grower-shippers braced for a relentless pace early in the deal when the San Joaquin Valley started about 10 days earlier than typical in most places — including June 24 in Arvin. Meanwhile, Mexico and the Coachella Valley peaked after starting about a week late.

“Mild winter and spring weather just brought the bloom on sooner,” said Jim Llano, account sales manager at Delano-based Castle Rock Vineyards.

“When we start getting blasted with 100 degrees in May, those plants say, ‘It’s time to go.’ And they’re taking off,” said David Stone, owner at Visalia-based Valhalla Sales & Marketing Inc.

Overlap creates options

For buyers, that meant more sourcing options than they might have been used to.

“We’ll be packing flames and sugraones in Mexico until July 7,” Atomic Torosian, managing partner at Fresno-based Crown Jewels Produce, said June 12.

“There’s more of an overlap this year. There are people who are going to want to switch to the San Joaquin Valley once we start here,” Torosian said. “But we have to make sure we keep movement going in both places.”

“Unfortunately, when the valley starts, buyers tend to abandon the desert immediately,” said John Pandol, special projects director for Delano-based Pandol Bros. Inc.

“They fail to appreciate that just because one variety started, it doesn’t mean all varieties start simultaneously.”

Growers see early starts

Castle Rock Vineyards planned to mirror its Coachella rollout of varieties in Arvin, Llano said.

It planned to start with flames, followed a week or so later by sugraones and summer royals.

“Eventually we’ll get into the scarlet royals in Arvin as well,” he said.

“Even the black grapes are very early,” Torosian said. “We have summer royals that will start out of the San Joaquin Valley around June 28 out of Reedley.”

Among its reds, Crown Jewels’ flames were to start as early as June 17.

As Coachella started in May, growers there and in Mexico were hurt by late-arriving crimsons from Chile, said Steve Root, president and chief executive officer of Coachella-based East West Unlimited LLC.


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