A freeze in northern Mexico early this year likely will delay the start of the Mexican table grape deal by several days and result in limited volume of perlette and possibly some early-season flame varieties, grower-shippers say.

Growers expect the season to pick up quickly, however, with normal volume in the pipeline by the end of May and plenty of grapes on hand for the rest of the season.

About 80% of Mexican table grapes are shipped during a 40-day period from about May 24 until July 3, said John Pandol, director of special projects for Pandol Bros. Inc., Delano, Calif., and chairman of the table grape division of the Nogales, Ariz.-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.

As of late March, no formal industrywide estimate had been released. However, the association said 17 million packages of grapes were shipped to the U.S. from Mexico through all ports of entry for the 2010 season.

On March 25, 18-pound cartons of thompson, sugraone and red globe varieties from Chile were selling for $12-14, and f.o.b.s for Chilean black seedless grapes were $14-16, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The early perlettes were most affected by the freeze, said Jerry Havel, director of sales and marketing for Fresh Farms, Rio Rico, Ariz.

“Some of those got zapped pretty good,” he said.

However, the company did not report any major damage to its 2011 crop.

“We’re still going to have plenty of promotable grapes,” Havel said.

The freeze affected up to 15% of the early table grape volume from Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group, said Los Angeles-based David Smith, senior vice president, North American sales.

“We might be anywhere from four to six days later than last year,” he said, adding, “We still will have promotable volume.”

Thanks to the addition of new growers, Fresno, Calif.-based Crown Jewels Produce Co. should be up slightly in volume this year and ship up to 850,000 boxes from Mexico, said Atomic Torosian, managing partner.

While the freeze may affect early volume, it should not affect quality, he said.

The mid- and late-season sugraones, black seedless, red globes and flames were “practically untouched” by the freeze, Torosian said.

The company expects to start shipping perlettes around May 10 and flames May 12.

“There is some light, early damage, but I think overall we’ll see close to a normal crop of grapes,” Torosian said.

Thanks to warm weather in March, Torosian said he was confident the company would have promotable volume for Memorial Day weekend.

The company ships grapes under the Crown Jewels, Sonora Queen and King’s Taste labels.

Malena Produce Inc. in Rio Rico expects to have light production in early May, decent production from the middle to end of May, “and a lot of heavy production for the total month of June,” said Scott Terry, import/export sales manager.

“Overall, I think there was about a 35% hit (industrywide) with regard to production, but once you get a second bloom, and once you get bunch sizes increasing, I think the overall production is only going to be off by about 20%,” he said.

Malena’s production should be off only about 5%, since it is in the La Costa district, closer to the Gulf of California than the Hermosillo district, where freeze damage was more significant, he said.

Malena should start some picking in La Costa around May 12

This year may get off to a slow start, but Miguel Suarez, owner of Rio Rico-based MAS Melons & Grapes, hopes the season will be nothing like last year, which he described as the worst season he has seen in the 23 years he has been marketing grapes.

The start of last season was delayed by bad weather then volume was concentrated into a short window creating “a big mess,” he said.

“It was very difficult for everybody,” Suarez said.

This year, he expects to ship about 680,000 cartons, up from 550,000 last year.