There was a time when California table grape growers could assume that once they selected and planted a specific grape variety, they’d be able to market it for 20 years or so.
“That’s no longer a good assumption,” said John Pandol, special projects director for Delano, Calif.-based Pandol Bros Inc.
Growers today constantly test new kinds of grapes, and while a few may last a decade or longer, some can get pulled after just a few years if something bigger and better comes along. And that can be a costly decision.
“Making a mistake on a variety is big,” Pandol said.
It can take seven to 10 years just make back the cost of planting, he said.
Pandol Bros., which currently is testing about 20 new varieties, likes to grow three sample crops before committing to big numbers.
“We’ve ordered plants then backed out,” Pandol said.
The company will have 20 varieties this season in its California deal, and 90% of those are proprietary varieties.
“We have more proprietary varieties because the university is not doing the research it once did,” Pandol said.
That has forced growers to turn to private breeders.
Bakersfield, Calif.-based Giumarra Vineyards Corp.’s subsidiary, Agricultural Research & Development — known as ARD LLC — is responsible for the development of the ARRA varieties, said Mimi Dorsey, vice president of marketing,
Giumarra is co-owner of the ARRA Breeding Program, which has licensed varieties to growers in 22 countries, she said.
Giumarra will have 1,320 acres of ARRA varieties in production for 2019.
Dorsey touted the ARRA Passion Fire and Sugar Drop varieties that she said are “delicious, early-season varieties that are trending very positively in the market.”
Growers worldwide have seen the promise in the new varieties and are licensing the Passion Fire as a replacement for flame seedless, she added.
Pando Bros. will produce half a million boxes of a variety called Sugar Crunch this year, Pandol said.
Although this will be the fourth season the company will offer the variety, “It’s our first big one,” he said.
Sugar Crunch is a white seedless grape with “really good texture and good taste,” Pandol said. It comes on in late July or early August.
Bakersfield-based Anthony Vineyards has added a variety from Bakersfield-based International Fruit Genetics called Sweet Bond, said co-owner Bob Bianco.
Nicknamed 007, the black variety is very early, has good size and good flavor, he said.
Top Brass Marketing Inc., Bakersfield, offers about 16 public varieties including allison, autumn king, autumn royal, flames and sweet globes, said president Brent Dixon.
“We anticipate having many more options to land on the shelves in 2020,” he said, including Candy Crunch, Candy Drops, Candy Hearts, Candy Snaps, Great Green, Krissy and Sweet Bond.
When it comes to selecting table grape varieties, supermarket buyers “always want to outdo their competitors,” said Justin Bedwell, president of Bari Produce LLC, Madera, Calif.
Shoppers want something that “looks good, that eats good, and that they are going to go back and buy again.”
Bari Produce first offered ivory — an early green variety with good sugar — last year and likely will boost production in the future, Bedwell said.
The company also added Valley Pearl last year, which can serve as a replacement for thompson, and Bedwell said the green autumn king has been a “late-season stalwart.”
“That one, we’ve had fantastic success with, and we’re looking to build upon that,” he said.
With the large number of new varieties being introduced, licensed and grown by different entities around the world, it has taken some time for retailers to figure out which varieties work best for their programs, Giumarra’s Dorsey said.
“Now that buyers are becoming more familiar, and the varieties are more mature, they definitely have opinions on which varieties they like, and which fill a specific slot in their program,” she said.