Mexico, Coachella grapes gain late momentum

06/25/2013 11:29:00 AM
Mike Hornick

COACHELLA, Calif. — Grape production in Mexico and the Coachella Valley started slowly but should finish by early July with greater-than-typical volumes.

Shipments out of Mexico totaled about 5.7 million boxes through the first week of June, down from 7.4 million the year before, said Atomic Torosian, managing partner at Fresno-based Crown Jewels Produce.

Coachella had picked and packed 1.5 million, down from just over 2 million, he said.

“The crop is a little lighter out of Coachella and Mexico than they thought,” Torosian said June 4.

“We’re behind in both locations, but prices are not as strong as they were last year at this time.”

In Coachella, most growers started production around May 13; some were as early as May 1.

“Coachella volumes have been fairly slow coming off,” said Rick Paul, table grapes category director at Bakersfield-based Sun World International LLC.

“About 22% of the crop has been harvested thus far (June 3). Flames are coming off at a good clip, but on the sugraones, we’ve been fighting sugar. We’re not sure why they’re coming off slower than the flames, but it’s not the first time.”

A late influx of Chilean crimsons discouraged production in Mexico and Coachella, said Steve Root, president and chief executive officer of Coachella-based East West Unlimited LLC.

But by June the pace was picking up, just as California’s Arvin district was about to come online.

“It’s going to be a train wreck,” Root said June 4. “Mexico is picking 270,000 to 300,000 flames per day. They have 18 to 20 million boxes (of grapes), and they’re just getting going. They’re not halfway done with their flames.”

“It will bottleneck until after Arvin, because Mexico will just be starting their superiors and sugraones,” he said. “They’ve got 4.5 million sugraones in Mexico, so they’ll be peaking in the first week of July.

"We’ll have quite a few here, too. Our late deal is a lot bigger than our early deal,” he said.

Arvin was expected to start June 24.

Jay Stover, salesman at Kingsburg-based Empire Grape Co. LLC, said the convergence won’t stop there.

“You’ll see Mexico, Coachella, Arvin and Fresno County grapes all by the first week of July,” Stover said. “It’s going to be interesting.”

“Coachella and Mexico totals will be fairly close to last year’s,” Paul said. “Between the two areas it was about 23 million boxes.”

“The San Joaquin Valley crop, the next region to start, is 10 days or so ahead," said George Matoian, sales and marketing director for Kingsburg-based Visalia Produce Sales Inc. "So we have pretty much condensed the marketing period into a smaller time.”

“Preliminary numbers say Mexico will be a little over 17 million (boxes),” Matoian said. “They’re revising that estimate. Flames will be maybe 10% down, and sugraones anywhere from 10% to 15% down. But it’s hard to say because we haven’t finished harvesting either variety.”

Jim Llano, account sales manager for Delano-based Castle Rock Vineyards, said quality, color, consistency and brix levels were all good on grapes out of Coachella.

The movement there from flame seedless to sugraones and summer royals — from red to green and black — should be repeated in Arvin, he said.

Castle Rock also had thompson seedless and scarlet royals in Coachella. The scarlet royals were expected to continue in Arvin.

The industry was getting support from retailers for the anticipated overlap of deals, said Jeff Olsen, vice president at Visalia-based The Chuck Olsen Co.

“There are a lot of ads going right now,” he said June 6. “Prices are down to where they are promotable.

"When they were in the high- to mid-$20s, grapes weren’t very promotable. Now the pricing is right and that’s obviously helping Mexico on the reds, for one, and Coachella.”

“They’re pushing grapes,” Olsen said. “Tree fruit is still a bit high but starting to come down."

People like to have a change from that Chilean fruit.”



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