Table grape growers in California are not particularly concerned with the dry and warm weather that continues to bathe the region. While chill hours may be important for some other products, such as tree fruits, for grape growers, it is less of an issue this year. Instead, they are keeping an eye on other weather factors that would have a greater impact on the upcoming season.
"It's been very dry over much of California," said Rob Spinelli of Anthony Vineyards. "With the lack of rain combined with a small snowpack, producers are concerned that it may push us into drought conditions again. Additional rainfall last year did replenish local dams and groundwater supplies, however the lack of larger scale infrastructure has meant that those resources have dwindled."
"Although it has been dry, we have had more chill hours this year than we did last year," Spinelli continued. "Last year was wetter and night temperatures were warmer. What we are concerned about is any potential frost that can still occur right through March. Overall, we are seeing similar conditions that were present in the 2014, 2015 and 2016 seasons."
Potential for early start to the season
The warmer weather may prompt vines to grow more vigorously, possibly resulting in an early start to the California table grape season. "There is a chance that the grapes may come alive earlier this year due to the warm and dry weather," Spinelli observed. "Projections are for an early start to the season, however there is still a lot of growing that needs to happen before we can be certain on that."
Spinelli added that growers would welcome rain now, however once growing begins in earnest in the Spring, any rain from that point has the chance to damage the crop. "Any rain now will only help and not hinder vine growth," he said. "However, once Spring comes and the bloom begins, there is the chance that any rain at that time could damage the crop."
New varieties coming online this year
Anthony Vineyards has been working hard to expand on newer varieties. Some will be introduced for the first time this year, while others will enter their second year with expanded acreage. "On our conventional red varieties, we are expanding on Krissy, Jack's Salute, Sweet Celebration and Timco," Spinelli explained. "While on the green varieties, we are seeing growth on Ivory, Timpson, Sweet Globe, and Arra-15."
Anthony Vineyards also have a few specialty varieties where they are seeing growing demand, and therefore have increased their acreage on. "Sweet Sapphire will be entering its second year after a successful first season," noted Spinelli. "We have increased the acreage on this variety and it will be available from mid-August through to October. Customers will also see the Candy Hearts in August and September, which is a red variety with high BRIX. Then there is the Candy Dreams, a reddish black mid-season grape which are IFG varieties."
The first fruit of the season is expected out of the desert regions. "In May we will see the first of the California grapes coming out of the Coachella Valley," he added. "Flame will be the first of the red varieties, while Sugarones are the first of the green seedless varieties."
Organic also expanding
Along with several newer varieties either being introduced or expanding, Anthony Vineyards are also seeing strong growth in the organic sector. They have added a few new varieties to their offering. "Timco, Krissy, and Allison have been added to our organic varieties list in the reds," Spinelli announced. "We are also seeing expanded green grape options in organic, including Ivory, Timpson and Great Green."
Spinelli added that in addition to adding new flavor options for consumers, they want to ensure broader availability, giving retailers the chance to sell organic grapes for a longer period. "We've been growing organic since 2002 and we keep seeing growing demand in the sector," he noted. "By continuing to expand our organic line, we are trying to keep up with demand for the whole season. We now have coverage from the middle of May to the end of November, early December, which is practically the entire season. This gives retailers confidence to be able to have promotable supply for the season."
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