(UPDATED COVERAGE, May 6) Table grape shipments from California’s Coachella Valley may start a few days later this season than last year, but growers says the fruit should be well worth waiting for.

“It should be a really good-quality crop out of Coachella this year,” said Mike Rocker, partner andfield manager for Gold Coast Growers LLC in Thermal, Calif. “We had adequate dormancy and nice form on the bunches.”

Rain and cool weather during the growing season resulted in good bud break and should help produce a uniform crop, he said in early April.

Gold Coast, which ships under the Desert Diamond label, should start shipping black beauties and flames in mid-May, a little later than last year, Rocker said.

The company’s volume should be up this year, thanks to some new acreage.

Last year, California growers shipped 91.7 million 19-pound boxes of table grapes, according to the Fresno-based California Table Grape Commission. This year, the commissions estimates the industry will ship 97.1 million boxes, similar to the 2008 volume of 96.9 million.

The Coachella Valley produces about 7 million to 8 million 18-pound cartons annually, growers estimate.

Bakersfield, Calif.-based Sun World International LLC expects to start shipping around May 17 – about two weeks later than last year, said Rick Paul, table grape category director.

Paul said he is pleased with growing conditions this season. Rain earlier this year was a good thing because it came at a time when the vines were “sleeping,” he said.

“We’re getting to a point now where it’s not as welcome as it was in winter,” he said in early April.

Last year, opening prices from the Coachella valley ranged from $26.10 to $29.10 for 18-pound cartons of large flame seedless grapes, with most going for $26.10, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Paul said he expects similar opening prices this year.

Desert Fresh Inc. in Coachella was running five or six days behind last year in early May, and Blaine Carian, vice president and general manager, said he expects to start shipping flames the week of May 17.

“Everything looks good so far,” he said in early April. “We had a pretty wet January, and a slightly wet February,” but March was dry, despite occasional rain predictions.

The region reached its average annual rainfall total in February, he said.

Anthony Vineyards in Coachella should get under way by May 17-18, several days later than usual, said co-owner Bob Bianco.

Weather during February and March was cooler than usual, but the good news is that slower growing seasons typically produce good quality, he said.

“We definitely have adequate supplies,” Bianco said. “We’ll be able to meet everybody’s needs for red, green and black grapes.”

A good dormancy period followed by early bud break should result in a good crop of perlettes and flames starting by May 17 from Peter Rabbit Farms in Coachella, said salesman Ed Lopez.

Sugraones should get under way May 26 or 27, and summer royals should start May 24.

The company expects to have slightly higher volume than last year with some new acreage maturing, Lopez said.

UPDATED: Coachella grapes start slightly later

Tom Burfield

Paco Hernandez, field manager for Sun World International LLC, Bakersfield, Calif., checks early Superior Seedless grapes in one of the company's Coachella, Calif., vineyards on April 21. Hernandez said these grapes should be ready for harvest around May 25.