Demand, gaps drive California grape pricesDemand for California grapes may be easing — but not by much — after a Fourth of July pull that sent prices up to $22 or more per box.

“We thought there would be a lag after the Fourth,” Rob Spinelli, salesman for Bakersfield-based Anthony Vineyards, said July 8. “Yesterday was slow, but everyone was trying to figure out what their inventories were coming out of the holiday. Today people are active.”

Delano-based Columbine Vineyards planned to start summer royals the week after the holiday, not a moment too soon for some buyers.

“The export market is extremely hot on black seedless,” Columbine sales manager Anthony Stetson said July 8. “It’s in the high $20 or low $30s now and will probably come down to the mid-$20s by the weekend. There are no blacks from the desert anymore and these are the first out of the valley.”

“It’s about availability of product, nothing else,” said Ron Wikum, grape category manager for Reedley-based Bravante Produce. “The markets have been very strong on the flames and early reds, the summer royals and early blacks. With the heat, the fruit has come slowly. Some of it hasn’t sized.”

Green grapes, too, took some part in a price surge through the last 10 days of June — though they remained available out of Coachella and Mexico, deals that were otherwise finishing up.

“When everybody was starting to load flames out of Arvin, they wanted to load the Arvin sugraones,” Spinelli said. “They wanted U.S. product for the Fourth, so there was a little more demand on greens too. The big push for loading was June 19 to 30.”

Box prices were $2 to $3 above normal for this time of year, Wikum said.

A number of grower-shippers expect to see prices dip from the $20 to $22 range to $18 to 20, but see solid demand continuing.

“It feels like it could go all year long,” Wikum said. “You don’t know, but it shows no sign of weakening.”

“There was a bit of a gap with the desert on reds,” Stetson said. “Mexico and Coachella finished earlier than we expected.” Columbine started Arvin production June 23. “We’re starting to get pretty good volume of flames coming in,” he said. “We’re getting near the end of the harvest on sugraones.”

“We’re doing better than last year as far as average pricing,” Stetson said.

Probably 40% or more of grapes from the region are presold to large retailers, Wikum estimated, leaving a smaller portion for the open market than once went there.