TULARE, Calif. — To say that Sundale Vineyards is bullish on table grapes is an understatement.
The grower-packer-shipper has expanded cold storage and related facilities four times in the past 10 years just to handle increasing table grape production, said Sean Stockton, president.
“The grape acreage keeps pushing the phases of the cold storage,” he said. “We’re not building it, then they will come.”
From its own 3,000-plus acres, Stockton said the company expects to pack nearly 4 million boxes this season. That’s double the volume of just six years ago.
The most recent expansion phase was completed in fall 2011, with the addition of two cold-storage rooms, a house-pack facility and a sale office.
Before the latest addition, the sales office was located across a parking lot and above the farm’s machine shop.
“When you have everything under one roof and under your control and supervision, there’s no substitute for that,” he said.
Stockton said he gleaned ideas for Sundale’s facilities from several others he visited.
“We took the best of everybody else’s and combined them under one roof,” he said.
All of the cold rooms are 100% racked and have motion-detector sensors to save energy by turning off and on lights.
The facility can hold up to 600,000 boxes.
The recent construction also included expansion of a canopy-covered loading area for incoming trucks hauling grapes from the field as well as outgoing trucks heading to distribution centers and retailers.
It required removal of 9 acres of grapes and involved more than 1,500 truckloads of concrete.
What’s driven much of the Sundale’s growth is the late-season deal, Stockton said.
Sundale Vineyards has put in extensive plantings of autumn king, a large, seedless late-season green grape from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s breeding program.
“You have consistent green supplies into the Thanksgiving holiday that are fresh on your shelves and will hold on your shelves,” Stockton said.
In addition, Sundale has other late-season varieties, such as scarlet royal, crimson and its own Sundale Red.
“Part of the reason we put in the house-pack facility is our large program on the back end of the season,” he said.
“It gives the retailers what they are asking for with a variety of packs.”
Key to Sundale’s success is an extensive cover program, where plastic sheets are put atop every vine beginning Sept. 1.
The cover program, as well as newer late-season varieties and better production practices “allow California to have a longer season than ever before with more than one color,” Stockton said.