Nearly a dozen major varieties of cherries are available from Northwest cherry grower-shippers, and new ones seem to be popping up all the time.
Bing, Chelan, lapin, Skeena and Sweetheart are the primary dark sweet varieties, said B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers, Yakima, Wash.
Rainier cherries — yellow with a red blush — account for about 10% of Northwest cherry volume.
Some new varieties already are making their way onto supermarket shelves, while others are several years away from commercial production.
About 100,000 cartons of the Regina variety were shipped last year, and it already has a good following in foreign markets, Thurlby said.
“It’s a hot item,” he said. Regina comes on 10 to 12 days after the bing and is similar to bing but larger.
Benton, Santina and BlackPearl are other new offerings.
Santina comes on before the bing and has “nice size and great sugars,” Thurlby said.
He thinks it will be a significant variety.
“There are more and more being planted,” he said.
BlackPearl, which still is being tested, is an “amazing piece of fruit” that comes on around June 15, about five days earlier than bing, Thurlby said.
“They’re huge,” Thurlby said — 9 row size — and get very dark with very good flavor.
Benton was bred at Washington State University and comes on at the same time as bing.
It is a large cherry — 10-row and larger — and now produces about 200,000 boxes a year.
Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, Wash., attracts cherry lovers with a number of premium varieties, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director.
The company expects to “really hit some volume this year” with its proprietary Skylar Rae cherry that debuted in 2016, Pepperl said.
“This will be the first year we’ve had any sizable numbers,” he said.
It is yellow with a red blush and is “super sweet,” he said, with a typical brix level of 22-25.
The company also has put a lot of resources into the Skeena, a high-flavor, self-pollinating variety developed in British Columbia.
Skeena plays a prominent role in Stemilt’s Kyle’s Pick program in July.
Stemilt also has U.S. licensing rights to the Staccato variety, a late-blooming, high-elevation cherry offered under its Half-Mile Closer to the Moon program.
The Orondo Ruby variety accounts for only a fraction of the cherries produced by Chelan Fresh Marketing, Chelan, Wash., but it sparks major interest from consumers and retailers, said Mac Riggan, director of marketing.
“Retailers are already asking us when they’ll be available,” he said in mid-April, as the cherries were just starting to bloom.
The Early Robin, a sweet, medium-large, yellow cherry with a red blush, and rainiers are other favorites from Chelan Fresh Marketing, Riggan said.
Even though myriad varieties of cherries are available from the Northwest, it is rare that the fruit is promoted by a varietal name, said Matt Nowak, who handles export and domestic sales for Grower Direct Marketing LLC, Stockton, Calif.
Cherries usually are advertised only as dark sweet cherries, no matter the variety, or as rainiers, he said.
An exception may be the bing variety, which sometimes is advertised by its widely recognized varietal name, he said.
Trying to promote cherries by variety could be a logistical nightmare.
“Cherries are so fast and furious that very seldom do you see anybody trying to promote them based on a variety,” he said.
Grower-shippers always are on alert for new varieties, though.
“There’s constantly stuff being looked at and evaluated,” Nowak said, as breeders seek out cherries that are bigger, sweeter and more resistant to bad weather.