(March 27) COACHELLA, Calif. — Early signs call for the Coachella table grape crop to begin production by early May, which means more typical timing for the season, shippers say.

Mike Aiton, senior vice president of Bakersfield-based Sun World International Inc., expects harvest to start between May 5 and 10 on perlettes and red flames. Sun World should begin harvesting red flames and its midnight beauty variety around May 12. Super seedless should start May 22.

“So that’s great,” he said. “That’s anywhere from seven to 10 days earlier than we had last year.”

Heavy supplies should be available by May 19 from both Coachella and Mexico, which should help fuel promotions for Memorial Day, which falls May 27, said Dutch Bol, West Coast sales manager and grape category manager for David Oppenheimer & Co., Visalia, Calif.

Even more, indications call for the San Joaquin Valley grape crop to start 10 to 12 days later than last season, which should take pressure off the tail end of the Coachella deal, Aiton said.

On the other hand, a freeze the first weekend of March should take at least 1,500 acres in Coachella off the fresh market this season, Bol said.

Using a yields figure of 600 18-pound lugs per acre, he estimated that would reduce the crop by 1 million boxes. Last year, the Coachella growing region produced 8.4 million 18-pound lugs, he said.

Mexico also suffered damage to its grapes, mainly in Caborca, Bol said.

Last year, limited volumes kept the U.S. Department of Agriculture from reporting f.o.b.s for Coachella until late May. At that time, prices for 18-pound lugs of U.S. No. 1 perlettes mostly were at $16.85-17.85, and flames seedless grapes were at $33.85-36.85.

Shippers emphasized their projections for this season’s crop were preliminary. Aiton said in late March that berries weren’t even the size of a pencil tip.

With April still ahead, he said, “It’s got a long way to go.”

Coachella is past the threat of frost, Bol said.

“We’re just waiting on heat to bring those grapes on,” he said. Forecasts called for Coachella temperatures to hit the 90s by Easter weekend, he said.

Aiton said shippers are hoping the crop will have better color than last season. That will cool nights after warm days spur growth.

Jim Howard, director of communications for the California Table Grape Commission, Fresno, Calif., said the commission’s estimates for crops in Coachella and the San Joaquin Valley should be ready the third week of April.