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Soaking Up The Sunshine

The California table grape industry breaks records

The jury is in: California’s fertile valleys and climate are the perfect place to grow and harvest table grapes. After another outstanding crop last year, those within the industry are excited about this year’s prospects. From dealing with the ongoing drought through sustainable measures to developing new cultivars to extend the growing season, take a stroll through the trellises to learn what’s new and trending—and what still needs improvement—in the California table grape industry.

The Positives
Although table grapes represent only a fraction of California’s total grape acreage, growers continue to enjoy rather spectacular returns. Last season brought in just shy of 110 million 19-pound boxes, marking the third year in a row topping the 100-million box threshold. 

Barry Bedwell, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association in Fresno (formerly the California Grape and Tree Fruit League), praises the many vertically- integrated, multigenerational growers with decades of knowledge in the field. “When we’re able to get water, we’re able to produce the finest and best tasting table grapes in the world,” he enthuses.

And while much of this success comes courtesy of Mother Nature, she can’t take all the credit. “We have a robust and active research system working in conjunction with growers to bring consumers a better experience,” Bedwell notes.

Varieties bred for better taste and longer shelf life have helped propel both domestic and international sales, as Flame Seedless, Crimson Seedless, and Red Globe were the most planted, followed by Sugraone, Scarlett Royal, and Autumn Royal.

“It speaks volumes that the last few years [the industry has] shipped over 110 million boxes. It speaks for the quality of the fruit,” confirms Jeff Olsen, president of the Chuck Olsen Company in Visalia, which sells domestically and exports to Malaysia, Singapore, and Japan.

Clint Lucas, an account manager at RJO Produce Marketing, Inc. in Fresno, agrees. “California is the agriculture heart of the world,” he states. “Consumers go through the seasons and are so excited to get back to California. It’s the quality, the soil, and hands-down, California grapes bring you the best.”

New Varieties
California’s season runs from May to January, and the availability of a great product for most of the year is what Lucas believes makes the state unique. Up and coming cultivars are now extending the season, increasing yields, and broadening the flavor horizon. “There are so many new varieties, which ties in with the future of the growing region in general,” he says. “Everyone is trying to find the next new good green and red grape.”

There is also continued interest and a push “to develop varietals like the Pink Muscat and Cotton Candy,” says Chris Ford, vice president for San Diego-based Sutherland Produce Sales, Inc. Although the ultra sweet varieties were considered ‘specialty’ items with limited plantings and supply, their popularity has galvanized growers to plant more acreage and kick up the available volume.