A number of California-based companies have found that they can expand their grape season and product availability by sourcing product from Mexico.

Delano, Calif.-based Pandol Bros. Inc., for example, started handling grapes out of Mexico off and on in 1978 and on a regular basis in 1992, said John Pandol, director of special projects.

Sourcing from Mexico in the spring enables the company to use its sales force, benefit from its marketing expertise and “amortize the deal a little bit,” he said.

The deal adds two months to the company’s grape program that would not start until July if the company waited for its northern California vineyards to start harvesting.

“It’s a good business model,” Pandol said.

A grape deal in Mexico enables Pacific Trellis Fruit, Reedley, Calif., to maintain the support of its customers as long as possible, said Dirk Winkelmann, international business development director.

The company has sourced from Mexico almost since the firm was established in 1999.

Pacific Trellis has its own ranch in Mexico as well as third-party growers.

365 days a year

Mexico, when included with its Chilean and California deals, allows Delano-based Fruit Royale Inc. to be a consistent supplier to its customers on a year-round basis, said Louie Galvan, managing partner.

“They can pretty much count on us for grapes 365 days a year – barring any regional gaps,” he said, which can occur on occasion, if one region finishes before the next begins.

The company has had a Mexico deal for eight years.

Typically, growers in Mexico are loyal and “great to do business with,” Pandol said.

The range of quality and services they offer is similar to what is available from the U.S., he said.

As in the U.S., some ranches grow “like they’re trying to get a medal at the county fair,” while others aim for a “value proposition,” he said.

Some have the latest growing systems, while others are relics of the past, Pandol said.

Most Mexican growing operations have been around for a long time and are multigenerational. However, over the past 20 years more consolidation and mechanization has crept in, and some vineyards are operating on a larger scale, he said.

Choice of shipping points

Sun World International LLC, Bakersfield, Calif., ships out of Mexico and California in order to give its customers a choice of two shipping points and to help ensure continuous availability of its proprietary Midnight Beauty and Superior Seedless brands as well as other varieties, said Rudy Heras, category manager.

The company has quality control representatives, a rotating sales staff and a category director in Nogales, Ariz., throughout the season and sends representatives into Mexico to walk the vineyards with growers to get a firsthand look at what’s coming down the pipeline, he said.

For Pacific Trellis, the transition from the Chilean deal to the Mexican deal marks the difference between an end-of-season crop and a new crop, Winkelmann said.

“Buyers are very astute,” he said. “They are generally very knowledgeable about the growing regions, especially the transition from one region to the other.”

Growing practices are similar in both areas, he said, but one difference is the shorter transit time — two to three days to market from Mexico versus two weeks or longer from Chile.