While some grower-shippers may see the Mexican state of Jalisco as a gateway to a head start for that country’s table grape deal, others want no part of it, or at least are taking a wait-and-see attitude.
Jalisco, about halfway down the west coast of Mexico, may be a great place to grow melons and tomatoes, but it’s not a traditional growing area for table grapes.
George Matoian, who handles sales and marketing for the Kingsburg, Calif., location of Fresh Farms, formerly Visalia Produce Sales, is the first to acknowledge that growing grapes in Jalisco is a challenge.
“It goes against everything natural for a grape,” he said.
The region has a tropical climate, similar to Brazil and Peru, and offers no chill hours for grapes.
“Grapes need dormancy,” he said. “There is zero amount of dormancy there.”
Nonetheless, after conducting experiments up and down Mexico for the past 10-15 years, Fresh Farms has launched a table grape program there.
“We found that this is something we can do,” Matoian said.
There is a big advantage to sourcing from Jalisco, since grapes can be harvested weeks earlier than in other areas, and vines can be manipulated to come to harvest when there are gaps in the market, he said.
Fresh Farms planned to kick off its Jalisco program the second or third week of April, when grapes sold in the U.S. traditionally are coming out of storage from Chile or Peru.
“We’ll be having grapes that are basically two days old compared to grapes that might be six to eight weeks old,” he said.
“It’s very exciting for retailers.”
The company will focus on green varieties this season, like Ivory, Sheegene 21, Sweet Globe and Cotton Candy, and add red seedless Sweet Celebration next year.
Fresh Farms won’t be the only company sourcing from Jalisco.
Nogales, Ariz.-based Divine Flavor LLC plans to launch a nearly 1,000-acre program there next season, said Carlos Bon Jr., sales manager.
Although the grapes were planted last year and, for the most part, would be ready to harvest this season, the company chose to wait until 2020 to start its Jalisco deal.
“Instead of having a mediocre first year, we’ll have a great crop next year with a better plant with a better root system,” Bon said.
“We’re going to have a large first-year crop in 2020 where we’ll be able to start at the beginning of April and connect to Sonora, then go all the way to Caborca in July,” he said.
“We’re going beyond the traditional seven- to eight-week Sonoran season.”
Divine Flavor’s main Jalisco varieties will be Cotton Candy, Autumn Crisp, Sweet Celebration, Timpson and its own Jelly Berries.
The company will not grow any of the traditional varieties, like flames or sugraones, in Jalisco, he said.
But not everyone is eager to grow grapes in Jalisco.
“You have to have a pretty good appetite for risk to try a project like that,” said John Pandol, director of special projects for Delano, Calif.-based Pandol Bros. Inc.
Since grapes have not been grown there before, any grower-shipper who wants to set up shop in Jalisco would have to send in “an entire bevy of people” along with equipment and supplies.
“Being a pioneer is not for the weak or the poor,” he said.
Jason Fuller, vice president of domestic sales and grower relations for Bakersfield, Calif.-based Sun World International LLC, agreed that there is a challenge in growing grapes in regions that have never had grapes before.
“There’s no book to read, just trial and error,” he said.