A late start to California grape deals could mean huge volumes later this summer.

Visalia, Calif.-based Chuck Olsen Co. began shipping flames and summer royals July 26, about three weeks later than normal, said Chuck Olsen, managing partner.

Despite the late start, Olsen reported good color, high sugar levels, good flavor and a normal mix of sizes.

“Everything looks pretty good so far,” he said Aug. 3. “We had an excellent spring and summer as far as temperature goes.”

Not all shippers were in agreement, however. Keith Andrew, sales manager of Columbine Vineyards, Delano, Calif., said quality and sizing were hit and miss.

“The volumes are very erratic,” he said. “Some fields are OK, some are coming up short.”

Green varieties were struggling to add sugar, Andrew said. And while sugar levels in flames were good, many also had high acid levels, which limited their sweetness.

Quality could begin returning to normal sometime in August, Andrew said.

On Aug. 3, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $14.10-15.10 for 19-pound cartons of large seedless flames from California, up from $13.10-14.10 last year at the same time.

Demand was very good in early August, but as volumes ramp up in mid-August, market conditions could change, said Jim Llano, sales manager for Castle Rock Vineyards, Delano.

Llano reported a “split market” on flames the week of Aug. 2, with high-end product getting one price and lower-end product another. Flame volumes would likely be lighter than projected in mid-June, he said.

Last year was the best season for retail support Olsen can remember in 35 years in the business, and he expects more good support this season.

The industry will need it, he said, with another crop expected to top 100 million boxes. Higher foodservice demand in the past year also should help Olsen Co. keep fruit moving, Olsen said.

“Foodservice sales are up a lot more than we thought they’d be,” he said.

Movement was way behind in early August because of the late crop, but Olsen was confident it could catch up as the season progresses.

Andrew reported outstanding demand at the beginning of August. He expected red prices to climb in August and green and black variety prices to come down.

At the beginning of August markets were stronger than they were last year at this time, but an on-time crimson crop, expected for mid- to late August, will likely mean very large supplies, given the late start for flames, Olsen said.

“There will be a period of time when there are a lot of grapes here,” he said.

Olsen said he’s excited about three newer varieties his company will be promoting this season — scarlet royals and sweet scarlets, which will likely come off at the beginning of September; and autumn kings, likely to begin in late September.

Columbine began shipping thompsons and summer royals Aug. 2, and majestics were expected to start the week of Aug. 9, Andrew said.