Autumn kings are among the fall varieties that are expected to contribute to the high volumes of California grapes shipping after Sept. 1. ( DJ Forry )

California grapes are in the ballpark of an all-time high for volume, and more than 60% of the crop will ship after Sept. 1.

The Fresno-based California Table Grape Commission is estimating the 2016 crop at nearly 117.1 million 19-bound box equivalents. Down a bit from the spring estimate of 117.4 million, that number would still surpass the record harvest of 116.3 million in 2013.

Last year's crop of 109.3 million boxes rode favorable markets to its highest ever gross value at $1.83 billion.

It all sounds promising, but grower-shippers prefer real grapes and dollars to potential grapes and dollars.

"The crop is out there, it's just a question of whether it will finish off and will it all get boxed," Jon Zaninovich, Jasmine Vineyards president, said Aug. 5. "The projection really depends on what Mother Nature will do."

New money flowing into the industry and improved grape varieties are driving the growth.

"Sun World has been rejuvenated," Zaninovich said. "Changes there have created a new growth phase and they're on track to increase their box numbers. That's just one company, but a lot of people have gotten into the grape deal in the last few years because of the newer varieties, some backed by investment firms. And all of us who have been in the grape deal for a while are planting higher yielding varieties."

Fall grapes will include autumn kings, scarlet royals, autumn royals and red globes. Among the many trademark varieties are Holiday and Milano from Columbine Vineyards; AutumnCrisp by Sun World International; Green Emerald from Sunlight International Sales; and Sweet Celebration from Jasmine, Pandol Bros. and other shippers.

Fall grapes will have excellent flavor and brix, said Nick Dulcich, co-owner and president of Sunlight International Sales, which markets for J.P. Dulcich & Sons.

"Some extreme heat has brought on a lot of sugar, which I believe will help move this crop in an efficient and strategic manner," Dulcich said in early August. "Customers are going to realize that the grapes are just loaded with sugar this year and taste really good. Consumers will pull the fruit off the shelves and movement will be excellent."

"The heat comes in waves and it's been that way the whole year," he said. "After 10 days of nice weather it just goes extreme. This is what grapes like - dry, hot weather."

"The crop is much cleaner and uniform than last year at this time," Zaninovich said. "Then we were dealing with some mildew issues and a few rains, but this year's fruit is cleaner."

But flames - still in inventories in August - proved somewhat disappointing.

"All varieties seem to be very nice, but it was one of the worst flame years I've ever seen, with a lack of size and color," Dulcich said. "It's weird how that variety just fell down, but that's farming. It's kind of the red-haired stepchild."

In September, shipper DJ Forry's reds will include timco and scarlet royal. "Crimsons come a bit later," said Ray England, vice president of marketing. "Green will be transitioning from princess to autumn kings."

Sunlight International will start shipping its Hobgoblin labeled grapes for the Halloween season around Labor Day, a move that coincides with center store promotions of the holiday, Dulcich said.

 
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