Estimated start dates for the spring table grape crop out of California’s Coachella Valley range from as early as May 10 to as late as May 20, depending on which growers you talk to.

One thing they all agree on, though, is that consumers should be pleased with the quality of this year’s grapes.

“It looks like a very good crop,” said Dave Clyde, president of Stevco Inc., Los Angeles.

“It looks like we’ve got a good set, so we should be able to pick and choose and be very quality conscious this year.”

Crop size

Last year, Coachella Valley growers shipped about 5.6 million boxes of table grapes, said Rick Paul, table grape category director for Sun World International, Bakersfield, Calif. His forecast for this year is 5.8 million boxes to 6.2 million.

While some acreage has been taken out of production, new acreage has been added, he said, keeping overall acreage fairly stable and volume at a manageable level.

Growers said it was too early to predict prices.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s first Coachella Valley table grape report listed 18-pound cartons of large perlettes at $36.10 and flame seedless at $32.10-36.10.

Drake Larson, owner of Drake Larson Sales, Thermal, Calif., was reluctant to predict a start date for his red, white and black table grapes.

“This has been a very unusual spring,” he said.

February was one of the coldest he could recall in decades, March was quite warm and April was “more on the normal side.”

Some delays

Picking usually starts the first week of May, but Larson was not sure many early grapes will materialize this year. He said May 15 may be more practical.

This year was a challenging one because everything is later, said Bob Bianco, co-owner of Bakersfield, Calif.-based Anthony Vineyards.

The company’s Coachella Valley program should start a week later than last year’s, but that could be a good for the quality of the fruit.

“The quality should be absolutely outstanding this year because we’ve had such a slow growing season,” he said.

Richard Bagdasarian Inc., Mecca, Calif., should start on schedule either in the second week of May, said president Nick Bozick.

The green seedless perlettes will come off first followed by the red seedless flames.

“Sizing looks like it’s doing very well right now,” he said in mid-April.

The company will have grapes until mid-July, and Bozick expects good volume for the Memorial Day and Fourth of July holidays.

Bagdasarian ships grapes under the Mr. Grape, Sunkist and Welch’s labels.

Peter Rabbit Farms in Coachella should start its table grape program by May 13, said John Burton, general manager of sales and cooler.

“The early flames this year are looking better than last year,” he said in mid-April.
“Right now, we’re waiting for the product to grow and color up.”

Preparing for start

Workers were thinning the grapes, making sure there would not be too many berries on a bunch or too many bunches on a vine.

“It’s one of the most hands-on commodities there is,” Burton said.

Stevco should kick off its season around May 20, which Clyde said is a normal starting time for the company.

Stevco grows sugraones, flames, thompsons, summer royals and scarlet royals in the Coachella Valley.

Shipments should continue into mid-July.

Sun World will kick off its sugraone Superior Seedless grape program in the Coachella Valley around May 12, with heaviest volume starting the last week of May and continuing through June, Paul said.

Flames will run from mid-May through mid-June, and Sun World’s Midnight Beauty black seedless grapes should start around May 24, with heaviest volume in June.

High winds took out some grapes, which is to be expected, he said, but the company still expects to have adequate supplies.