As a result of the desert’s unseasonably cool spring, the Coachella Valley grape harvest is off to a late start. Growers are now feeling the pressure to harvest the crop and get it to market before the massive Central Valley harvest begins in early July. Some workers, meanwhile, have picked up work in other crops, while they waited for the grape season to kick off.
This spring’s cool weather helped produce a large crop of "pretty nice quality" grapes, said George Tudor, who grows about 1,500 acres of grapes in the eastern Coachella Valley, but it also delayed their maturation process. Grapes require heat to sweeten, but last month was the Palm Springs area’s 19th coldest May on record.
The annual grape harvest in the Coachella Valley has begun after a late start due to the heavy winter rains. Now, with June temperatures predicted to be in the triple digits for at least the next week, Tudor said it will be a challenge to harvest the grapes quickly, before they over-ripen.
“When the heat comes, we’ve got to get the fruit off,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury of saying, ‘we’ll get there when we get there.’”
Tudor said his crews started harvesting grapes May 17, about two weeks later than normal. In previous years, he said, his company's harvest was about 70% complete by June 1; this year, it was just 20% complete.
As of Monday, Coachella Valley growers had packed 898,224 18-pound cartons of grapes, about 42% less than they had at the same time in 2018, when they'd packed 1,556,911 cartons, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Western Fruit Report.
Desert growers now have a shorter period of time to get their fruit into produce sections at grocery stores.