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California’s Great Grapes

A record-breaking year benefits growers, shippers and consumers
CA Grapes

As far as grapes are concerned, California is the place to be. It claims the lion’s share of commercially grown grapes in the United States, producing over 99 percent of supply, and has 500 table grape growers alone.  With excellent weather the past few years, the fresh grape industry experienced remarkable productivity, topping the 100-million box mark for the first time in 2012.

California table grapes, grown principally in Coachella and San Joaquin valleys, are available from May through January in a variety of colors, shapes, brix levels, and with or without seeds.  Strong research and breeding programs continue to develop new varieties, hoping to one day provide consumers with California fresh grapes year round.  Although there are as many as 70 varieties grown in the Golden State, little more than a dozen account for the majority of volume. 

According to the California Table Grape Commission, the most popular varieties include Crimson and Flame Seedless; Red Globe; Sugraone; Autumn, Scarlet, and Summer Royal; Princess; and of course, the widely known and top ranked Thompson Seedless.  Bearing acreage for these and other varieties (see table on next page) have fluctuated over the last decade as growing conditions, pricing, and demand have changed. 

For example, Autumn Royal acreage was only 404 in 2001, increased to nearly 1,300 acres two years later, and was up to nearly 4,300 acres in 2012.  The opposite befell Perlettes, which tumbled from 4,300 acres in 2001 to 3,500 acres in 2003 and then to only 1,400 acres in 2012.  Crimson Seedless, also known as Red Crimson, experienced both ups and downs: from 9,835 acres in 2001 to 12,351 acres in 2006, to a high of 15,247 acres in 2008, then down to 12,954 acres in 2011, only to rebound to 13,080 for 2012.  

Varieties also differ by county.  Crimson and Flame Seedless dominate Kern, Fresno, and Tulare counties, while Autumn Royal is big in Kern and Tulare.  Riverside specializes in Flame Seedless and to a lesser degree, Perlette; Princess grapes grow in Kern and Tulare, Sugraones are found in Kern and Riverside, and Red Globe can be found in six counties, though most significantly in Kern, Tulare, and Fresno. 

Climbing Demand

Imports & Exports

Grape consumption in the United States has reached over 8 pounds per person annually, and such demand requires imports to keep product in stores.  As the world’s second largest importer (after China), the United States received 570,000 tons of tables grapes last year, with the majority coming from Mexico after tariff reductions (raised due to the infamous cross-border trucking dispute resolved in 2011). 

On the flip side, the United States is the world’s second largest exporter, shipping 380,000 metric tons annually, with Canada as its top market.  A recent accord to add Japan to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (comprised of Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam) will further open this lucrative market.