Mexico’s Sonora region is getting ready for the start of the grape season. “I’ve been involved with grapes for 33 years and this is the weirdest growing season I’ve seen,” says Miky Suarez with MAS Melons & Grapes. “It feels like nothing makes sense.” First of all, there was a good accumulation of chill hours, essential to achieve a good crop. However, despite the desired cold weather, the bunch count per plant is very poor on some varieties and normal to almost normal on other varieties. The lower bunch count seems to be most prevalent on the older plants. “As soon as the growing season started progressing, it turns out that some bunches that we thought we couldn’t use, may be usable in the end, resulting in roller coaster growing conditions,” Suarez commented.
Late start the new normal?
MAS Melons & Grapes expects to receive its first green grapes around May 17, followed by red and black varieties around May 24. “We handle grapes from growers that are in the coastal regions of Hermosillo as well as the Caborca Sonora area. “From what I hear from other growers and distributors in our area, some companies here in Nogales will start receiving green grapes as early as May 10 and red grapes around May 22 or 23,” mentioned Suarez. This season has a later start than normal, but given last year’s extremely late start, growers and distributors are starting to wonder if this late start is going to be a more permanent issue caused by climatic changes. Total production volume for Sonora is expected to be 21.5 million cartons.
Challenges on production side
With fewer and smaller bunches per plant this season, the expectation is for fruit size to be bigger. “Berry size is a key component of grape quality and the bigger the berry size, the better perception of fruit,” commented Suarez. As a result, he is expecting a year with very decent quality fruit, but also a good year for marketing the fruit.
“I believe the biggest change and challenge this season will be on the production side.” Given that the bud break was so uneven with most vines having bunches in different states of growth, crop management has been challenging. This will translate in lower picks of production as it will take more time to harvest the fruit. Another reason why Suarez is expecting a strong season is lower supplies currently in the market. “By the time the Sonora grape season starts, the industry around the world will be ready and anxious for good fresh grapes,” he said.
Grape export experience for 24 years
MAS Melons & Grapes has been involved with exporting grapes since the start of the company 24 years ago. “The international markets have been a big part of our business; we know how to do it and are not afraid of going long distances or far-away destinations,” Suarez mentioned. Main markets for the company have been New Zealand, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Central America, and a few of the Caribbean islands. A new destination this year will be South Korea, a country MAS has received much interest from. Overall, there is significant interest already from customers at all MAS’ export destinations. “Once again, we will need to be very careful with the logistical part of the export business. Last year, we didn’t have any major problems during the pandemic, but this year the dynamics are different.”
Transition to new varieties
Although the bulk of MAS’ grape volume is still traditional varieties, like most of the industry, the company is transitioning to newer varieties. These include Ivory, Sweet Globe, Great Green, Sweet Celebration and Jack Salutes. In addition, varieties are being trialed that will form part of the volume to offer in the coming years.