Lower volumes and an earlier end to the season should mean continued strong demand for California grapes.

California grape volumes will likely be lower than last year, and Delano, Calif.-based Columbine Vineyards expects to be at least 10% under last year, said Anthony Stetson, sales manager.

The persistent drought in California meant less water for grapes, which meant smaller sized fruit and subsequently lower volumes, Stetson said.

It hasn’t been ideal, he said, but the silver lining has been strong markets.

“Prices have been very good with a little lighter crop. I can’t say the higher prices have totally offset the lower volumes, but they’ve helped.”

On Nov. 18, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $18.95 for 19-pound containers of bagged large crimson seedless from California, up from $18.55 last year at the same time.

In addition to drought, growers have battled lingering heat this fall, said John Harley, sales manager for Bakersfield, Calif.-based Anthony Vineyards.

That’s kept crimsons from adding color, Harley said. As a result, Anthony Vineyards was leaning more heavily on its autumn royal and autumn king production in mid-November.

“We’re still harvesting crimsons, but in a lighter way. We’re waiting for them to switch from light pink to red.”

Because of the drought and heat, quality has been hit and miss this season, said Ron Wikum, grape category manager for Reedley-based Bravante, which expected to wrap up its season in late November or early December.

“I won’t be sorry to see this year behind us. We’ve had color issues, trouble with certain varieties finishing. It’s been some good, some bad, some ugly.”

Harley agreed with Stetson that California volumes will likely be lower than last season, which should bode well for markets for the balance of the season.

“Demand is good now, and it looks like it will continue through Thanksgiving and prior to Christmas.”

With the first South American imports not expected on the East Coast until Dec. 8 and on the West Coast until Dec. 24, there should be plenty of demand on both coasts for California fruit, Harley said.

If Columbine and other shippers continue to enjoy good quality, markets should strengthen even more, Stetson agreed.

“Prices will continue to go up as we approach Christmas. Condition will dictate demand. If you have good, strong fruit in December, markets should be significantly stronger.”

Wikum, however, said grapes haven’t had their usual ad support this season. One reason, he said, could be Northwest apple and pear shippers keeping more of their product in domestic markets.

“It’s taken a toll on grape demand.”

While he’d obviously welcome relief from the drought, Harley said the dry fall as been good for quality.

Columbine expects to ship autumn royals, autumn kings and its proprietary Holiday variety through the first or second week of December, Stetson said. Last year, the company shipped into January.

Anthony expects to ship until mid- or late December, Harley said.