Although table grape volume from the Coachella Valley could be down a bit this year, quality coming out of California’s first growing area to come into production should be exceptional, thanks to good growing conditions, grower-shippers said.

Coachella acreage could be down about 8%, said Blaine Carian, vice president of Desert Fresh Inc., Coachella. That is largely because a number of growers are switching to new varieties, which will take a while to grow in.

He expects acreage to go back up as the new vines come into production in future seasons.

Desert Fresh plans to start shipping flame seedless grapes in mid-May, about the same time as last year, he said.

Grower-shippers expect good sizing, and weather in April was just right — “not too hot, not too cold” — he said.

“We had a warm winter, but most of the growers here were able to compensate for that with cultural practices,” Carian said.

The company should have table grapes until the Fourth of July.

Los Angeles-based Stevco Inc. has eliminated its perlette variety in Coachella and has switched to sugraones, said president David Clyde.

The company also is adding scarlet royal and summer royal grapes, and will have flames and thompsons seedless varieties as well, he said.

Stevco should start shipping May 11, about a week earlier than last year.

Clyde anticipates a good crop this season.

“Everything seems to have gone well,” he said.

The company plans to ship out of Coachella until late June, and source from the San Joaquin Valley starting around mid-July.

Next year, Stevco plans to add the autumn king variety and will have a late green seedless variety for fall, Clyde said.

The company expects to ship 350,000 cartons from Coachella and 3.5 million from the San Joaquin Valley.

California is coming off an all-time record for table grape movement in 2008 — 99.1 million boxes valued at $1.2 billion — according to the Fresno-based California Table Grape Commission.

About 40% of the crop went for exports, for an all-time high valuation of $608 million.

While the commission expects demand to continue into the new season, John Pandol, director of special projects for Delano, Calif.-based Pandol Bros. Inc., said demand could depend on how much competition pops up at retail from other products.

For example, if cherries are plentiful during their marketing window, “grapes tend to be pushed out to the side,” Pandol said.

He sees potential for increased demand for grapes during the July to September period because of reduced numbers of California’s Westside melons resulting from a lack of water availability.

“That fruit does not exist this year,” he said, which could open marketing opportunities for table grapes.

Carian said a positive factor for the Coachella deal could be a lighter-than-normal crop from Mexico this season. The Mexican grape deal runs about the same time as Coachella’s.

Shippers seem optimistic that grapes will continue to be popular during the economic downturn.

“They have become a staple,” Clyde said. “And people have become more educated. They know they are good for you.”