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Peak of production is yet to come
California grape season showing better balance and movement this year
In many ways, this year’s California grape season is opposite from last year. Because of a cool spring, some varieties were initially slow to sugar, which has resulted in harvest of the crop being more spread out. “Last year, the Arvin, Delano and Fresno growing districts all came at the same time, but this year, the market is more balanced,” says Nick Dulcich with Sunlight International. “Because all varieties were ready to be harvested at the same time last season, so much inventory built up. That’s not the case this year, which is good.”
Season is 18-21 days later
“We’ve had to be patient, in particular with some of the green grape varieties,” added Dulcich. “Some varieties are being harvested a month later than last year as the grapes are slow to sugar. However, quality is very good once they reach the desired sugar levels. I don’t think we’ve had the peak in California grape production just yet. I don’t see Delano going for another week. They will be picking pretty heavy around the 18th of September.” Because of a cooler spring, the season this year is about 18-21 days later.
Loss due to heat spikes
Unexpected heat spikes that followed a cooler spring are taking their tolls on the grape deal. When the June 8 heat wave hit, many green grapes were in the pre-sugaring stage. They got dehydrated and were damaged from sunburn. Whether a grape variety is able to withstand the heat or not, depends on many factors. Is the field properly irrigated? Are there canopies? Is it a young vineyard? What grape variety is involved? “Some of the vines withstand the heat and move on while others have endured a lot of damage. It is a guess, but I suspect about 10 percent of California’s production has been lost due to the heat this year,” said Dulcich.
Surge in air shipments
Air business has really taken off this year. “I think people in Asia loved the cherries they were getting earlier in the season and have now switched their appetite to grapes.” Dulcich believes air shipment is also much higher because of the timing of this year’s ghost festival, which took place September 5th. For the ghost festival, grapes are in high demand and they would have had to be picked in early August in order to make it to the festival by early September. Since this year’s season is later, air shipments play a more important role.
Halloween Hobgoblin grapes
Last week, Sunlight International started packing Hobgoblin grapes for its Halloween program. “It is a nice change for retailers,” said Dulcich.” The program is different, and it’s also a healthy alternative to candy. We started this program with six truckloads in the first year, and now Hobgoblin makes up 20 percent of our business.” In addition to the domestic market, Hobgoblin grapes also go overseas to Singapore and Hong Kong.
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