FOWLER, Calif. — Autumn king grape production at a Bravante Produce vineyard in Fowler might seem to take the early start and rapid pace of California’s grape deal to an extreme.
“Our autumn kings may be summer kings,” said Ron Wikum, grape category manager for Reedley-based Bravante. “We’ll see.”
The green variety, typically an October grape, harvested last year in August on what is some of the earliest ground in the San Joaquin Valley.
Now production is increasing from 5 to 20 acres. The relative newness of the variety at Bravante and the statewide trend of other varieties starting up to two weeks early this year left the arrival time for these autumn kings up in the air as of late May.
The grower-shipper is also doubling its production — to 60 acres — of autumn royals, an elongated black due in September that targets the export market.
The moves precede a longer term expansion planned for table grapes at Bravante Produce. The company grows 800 acres of the fruit, as well as about 3,000 of various citrus items. Elsewhere in California there’s a Bravante winery in Angwin, near Napa.
“We have about 600 acres of table grapes that we’re in the process of purchasing and developing,” Wikum said. “We should double our grape volume in four years.”
For 2015, Bravante is expecting initial production of the Sheegene 21 variety. It plans to market that green grape as Ivory, in line with how it’s sold internationally.
“It’s an early green that’s a good replacement for thompson (seedless),” Wikum said. “It has better yields, is more durable and has excellent flavor. We like it a lot.”
Yields on thompsons typically run 700 to 800 boxes per acre. The newer green varieties can get 1,200 to 1,400.
“So financially it makes sense to change the varieties out and redo the vineyards,” he said. “Like everyone else, that’s what we’re doing. We’re pretty high on the Sheegene 21, which is called Ivory in the rest of the world.”
Other potential successors to thompson seedless are still being weighed. Options include Valley Pearl, a California Table Grape Commission variety; and Great Green from Williams Nursery.
In May, agronomist Carl Pimentel joined Bravante. He was previously an in-house advisor on production of table grapes and stone fruit to Gerawan Farming, where he worked for 11 years. His experience included stints at Superior Farming Co., acquired by Sun World in 1989; and Anthony Vineyards.
“In general, the season is two weeks early,” Pimentel said May 27. “There will be some folks in Arvin who start around June 20, which is pretty early. The week after there will be a lot of activity.” He expected Fresno’s earliest flames to start around June 24. A Sunkist Growers house for citrus, Bravante is in the fourth year of a marketing agreement through which it packs and sells table grapes under the Sunkist label for customers who request it. That program has enjoyed domestic success, Wikum said, but some export receivers prefer the Bravante label, seeing it as more exclusive.