Everything is done using tradition breeding, which can be painstaking and sometimes tedious, Cain said.
From about 500,000 crosses made each spring, Cain whittles them down to about 9,000 seedlings that are eventually planted in the field for further evaluation.
When he finds a selection with the characteristics he likes, Cain and his crew propagate it and plant 18 vines, splitting the plantings between two pruning methods.
By the end of the second year, the vines produce enough fruit for evaluation.
Some is put into cold storage trials, where it will be held for four, eight and 12 weeks and evaluated along the way.
Workers also pack one small box of each potential release on pallets shipped to different supermarket chains so they can evaluate them with their staff, he said.
If a selection draws positive comments, two acres are planted for expanded evaluations.
“We’ll pack several hundred boxes and give them out to selected retailers so they can actually put it on the retail shelves and see how consumers like it,” Cain said.
From the time a cross is first made until the breeding firm decides to license a variety takes several years, he said.
The initial cross behind Sweet Celebration, for example, was made in 2001. It’s just now starting to hit supermarket shelves with volume.