VISALIA, Calif. — If California table grape grower-shippers fail to challenge the 2008 record volume of 99.1 million cartons, blame it on Mother Nature.

“It looks as if we’ll have a decent crop,” said Jeff Olsen, vice president of The Chuck Olsen Co. “Bunch sizes look good, but the season may start a little late.”

The reason for the later start, if it comes to pass in the San Joaquin Valley, is the unusually cool temperatures in late March and early April. However, there is an up side.

“Warm days and cool night help the flames color quicker and size better,” Olsen said.

The Chuck Olsen Co. anticipates volume of about 1 million cartons, about the same as in 2009, Olsen said. He said picking should begin about July 4, starting with flames, summer royals and then thompsons.

Harvesting of princess grapes is scheduled to begin the first week in August, followed closely by autumn royals.

The early lineup is similar at Sundale Sales, the marketing division of Sundale Vineyards & Cold Storage, Tulare, said Sean Stockton, partner and chief executive officer.

Harvesting of flames and summer royals is scheduled for July and with princess grapes coming out of the fields by the end of the month, Stockton said.

Sundale Vineyards has focused on mid- to late season varieties, a formula that has worked well. Sundale Sales was founded in 2006 and marketed 1.6 million cartons that year.

“We’re projecting volume of 3.4 million boxes this year,” Stockton said. “It’s been nice growth. It’s been growth in the new varieties. It’s been growth the smart way.”

By the start of harvest, Sundale Sales will have moved into the company’s new sales and administrative offices, he said.

The first of the 2010 California grape deal will come out of the desert. The consensus among grower-shippers is that picking will begin a few days later than normal — probably about May 15 — but the crop will be up about 10% from 2009, said Greg Paul, category manager for table grapes for Sun World International LLC.

“We’re happy with the bunch count so far, but we have a long way to go,” he said in early April.

The Bakersfield-based company will start the season with flames and superiors, which Paul said could start with light volume as early as May 10. The company’s early black variety, midnight beauty, will follow about May 25, he said.

“By the end of May, we’ll have promotional volumes on all three varieties,” Paul said.

Picking of the varieties will transfer to the San Joaquin Valley in July, he said.

“We’ll start with flames, the superiors a day or two later and midnight beauties about a week later,” Paul said.

For a variety of reasons, flames were in tight supply in 2009. The resurgence of variety this year will put Sun World back in the rainbow business, Paul said. What the company calls rainbows are clamshells packed with two and three colors of grapes.

Packing of the rainbow clamshells could start as early as late May.

“We’ll for sure be packing the rainbows by early June,” Paul said.

Trinity Fruit Sales Co., Fresno, was expecting the desert harvest of flames and perlettes to begin as early as May 1 with thompsons starting about June 1, said John Hein, salesman. Trinity will begin sourcing from the San Joaquin Valley by July.

“Everything looks good, from what our field crews are telling us,” Hein said.

Trinity will have a wide selection of summer grapes, he said.

By design, Gerawan Farming, Reedley, delays its grape harvest until the first week in August, said George Papangellin, sales manager.

“Holding the fruit on the vine longer gives us an opportunity to have a stronger, sweeter grape and some larger sizing,” he said. “It also puts us in a good position for the later deal.”

Early August is when Simonian Fruit Co., Fowler, anticipates the start of the season for thompsons. Depending on weather, crimsons could start in late August, said Jeff Simonian, salesman.

Wes Pak Sales Co. Inc., Dinuba, also plans to begin marketing thompsons in early August, but its flames are scheduled to be available about July 4, said Sam Stewart, salesman.

Table grape giant, Pandol Bros. Inc., Delano, will start the season sourcing from above and below the border.

“We intend to overlap our Sonora (Mexico) season with our California season,” said John Pandol, director of special projects.

Earthquake-ravaged Chile was expected to finish its grape season by the end of April, grower-shippers said. The Mexican deal may start late, but the finish date will be normal, Pandol said.

A statistical analysis Pandol Bros. conducted in recent years concluded that up to 85% of the Mexican crop crosses into the U.S. over a 40 day period, the last seven days of May through the first three days of July, he said.

If the analysis holds true in 2010, the San Joaquin Valley harvest will launch just as the Mexican pipeline empties.
Fruit Patch Sales Inc., Dinuba, planned to begin shipping flames about July 4, said Sheri Mierau, vice president of sales and marketing.

The company also may offer earlier varieties. In late March, Fruit Patch was negotiating with some growers who can supply early grapes, she said.

The first California grapes marketed by Traver-based Scattaglia Growers & Shippers LLC should ship July 4-10, said Dave Parker, director of marketing. The company will start with flames, summer royals and what Parker said was “a very good princess crop.”

Crimsons are the company’s late summer variety, he said.

“You have to wait, wait, wait to pick, then pick fast to get the perfect maturity and the perfect flavor,” Parker said.

Scattaglia Growers & Shippers will increase its grape volume this year and is adding new acreage, he said. The effects of the new acreage, however, will not be realized this year, because some of the vineyards are too young for commercial crops.

“They’ll really begin to impact our volume in 2011,” Parker said.