(Nov. 25, 2:54 p.m.) Excellent growing weather and a stronger dollar could yield large volumes of high-quality Chilean grapes this season.

The first vessel shipments should begin arriving about Dec. 5, with promotable quantities in time for Christmas, right on schedule, said Tom Tjerandsen, marketing director for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, Sonoma, Calif.

That’s in contrast to last season, when product was late or steered to European markets because of the sagging dollar, Tjerandsen said.

This year, he hopes changes in exchange rates will steer some of those European-bound grapes back to the U.S.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that it will be a stellar season,” he said.

Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group plans to bring in its first shipment Dec. 9, with volumes increasing with Dec. 15 and Dec. 18 shipments, said Josh Leichter, grape category director.

That would probably be in time for New Year’s promotions, but Christmas promotions could be less likely, Leichter said.

The first West Coast vessel with fruit for Los Angeles-based The Giumarra Cos. is expected to arrive Dec. 18-20, said Craig Uchizono, vice president of Southern Hemisphere for the company.

Uchizono said Giumarra could have sufficient volumes for some New Year’s promotions.

Uchizono and Leichter did not speculate on the strength of opening markets or projected prices.

For many importers, perlettes are the first variety out of the gate. But at Oppenheimer, which doesn’t source perlettes, sugraones and flames will come off first, Leichter said.

The company also expects to import thompsons, crimsons, autumn royals, red globes and muscats this season, he said.

While a preliminary volume estimate hasn’t been released, Tjerandsen said Chilean shippers are aiming for a 55 million-box season.

Oppenheimer expects to import 10%-20% more Chilean grapes than it did last year, Leichter said.

Leichter, Uchizono and Tjerandsen all said they anticipate excellent quality this season.

Several trends could work in the Chilean grape industry’s favor this season, Tjerandsen said: More people eating at home; more grapes available to school children through new programs funded by the farm bill; and fast-food purveyors using more grapes.

In addition, the imminent opening of new cold storage and methyl bromide-treatment facilities at the Port of Stockton, Calif., could attract incremental growth in West Coast shipments of Chilean grapes, Tjerandsen said.

Rainbow clamshell packs, featuring green, red and black grapes; and small clumps of grapes tailored for school foodservice programs could be big sellers out of Chile this season, Tjerandsen said.

While bags are still dominant, more and more Chilean grapes are packed in clamshells every year, Leichter said.

Oppenheimer will market both bi-color (red and green) and tri-color clamshells this season, he said.