Grower-shippers and officials are looking forward to strong demand for a high-quality Coachella grape crop.

Demand for Coachella-grown green grapes in particular should be extremely high thanks to an early end to the Chilean green deal this season, said John Burton, sales manager for Coachella, Calif.-based Peter Rabbit Farms.

“It will probably be a higher start than last year,” he said. “I think the pipeline will be empty.”

With the right retail support, and a well-orchestrated end to the Chilean deal, demand should be strong, agreed Steve Root, president and chief executive officer of East West Unlimited LLC, Coachella.

“The market should be good,” he said. “It’s been good all the way through on the Chilean deal.”

East West looks forward to good quality and size profile on flames, perlettes and early blacks, which should begin shipping May 8-11, and on sugraones and thompsons, slated for the end of May, Root said.

With the exception of perlettes, most varieties will ship through the end of the deal, sometime around July 4, Root predicted.

The size of the 2009 Coachella crop will likely be similar to last year, when about 6.5 million boxes shipped, said Rick Paul, table grape product manager for Bakersfield, Calif.-based Sun World International LLC.

Some early shipments could be on the light side, but by June production should be back to normal, he said.

Sun World expects to begin shipping flames and sugraones about May 12 and black seedless May 20-22, about right on time, Paul said.

Flame markets will likely be more in the average range, Burton predicted, thanks to abundant late-season shipments of Chilean red varieties.

Taste, however, could jump-start even red markets, Burton said.

“People may be tired of old grapes that have sat on shelves for two months,” he said. “Once they taste (new-season Coachella product), the transition will be a swift one.”
Based on the success of its South American counterpart, the Coachella deal could get off to a robust start, Paul said.

“The Chilean deal is generally considered to be very successful to date,” he said.

The key for the transition is quality, Paul said. And the Chilean product has been high-quality thus far.

“Volume isn’t as much of a concern as quality,” he said. “Poor quality clogs up the pipeline. If it’s good-quality product, it should clean up nicely.”

Drake Larson Sales, Thermal, Calif., expects to begin marketing product the week of May 11, said Drake Larson, partner. The company’s Coachella deal will likely wind up about July 10.

Larson expected good quality on a crop that should be slightly larger than last year’s, thanks to an acreage increase.

“You never know until you start picking, but the weather’s been very, very favorable,” he said. “Yields should be good and the quality looks outstanding.”

The high quality should be matched by brisk movement, given what Larson has heard about Coachella’s main rival.

“There should be extremely high demand,” he said. “I hear Mexico’s down.”

Shippers can’t do it alone, however, Larson said.

“The trick is getting the big (retail) boys to line up a certain amount of promotions,” he said. “If so, it should be a good year for everybody.”

Peter Rabbit Farms expects to begin shipping perlettes May 6-8, to be followed by flames May 11 and sugraones and black varieties May 20, Burton predicted.

Perlettes and flames could get underway two to five days earlier than usual.

Burton looked forward to a high-quality 2009 crop.

“The crop looks good,” he said. “We’ve had some beautiful growing conditions. We had a mild spring, a lack of real cold, cold weather.”

While it was too early to tell for sure, Burton expected good sizing on this year’s Coachella crop.

Mother Nature found the perfect middle ground for grape-growing this year, said Tony Bianco, president of Coachella-based Desert Fresh Inc.

“It hasn’t been too hot or too cold — it’s optimal growing weather,” he said. “We call weather like this ‘grape-sizing weather.’ Nothing’s rushed.”

Desert Fresh expected to begin shipping flames May 11, with perlettes to follow four or five days later, Bianco predicted. Volume shipment of flames would come in late May or early June, he said.

“It’s pretty much on par with being a normal start,” he said.

Some minor weather-related interference could reduce yields in some vineyards, but not enough to have much of an effect on markets or overall volumes, predicted Barry Bedwell, president of the California Grape & Tree Fruit League, Fresno.

“My understanding is the bunch counts are down a little bit, but they’re adequate,” he said. “They’re still within the normal range, and they should still make the box counts of last year.”

For Jim Howard, vice president of the Fresno-based California Table Grape Commission, no news is good news when it comes to forecasting demand later this spring and summer for Coachella grapes.

“We’re not aware of anything going on that would negatively impact the Coachella season,” he said.