Based on the first of California’s Coachella Valley table harvested this year, the 2011 crop should please both growers and consumers.
A few Coachella growers started picking Perlettes and Flame Seedless the second week of May, says David Marguleas, senior vice president of Sun World International, Bakersfield, Calif.
By the middle of the month, several others were beginning to pick early-planted Sugraones, although harvesting for the bulk of that variety won’t start until early June.
This year, the Coachella Valley harvest is running about five to seven days later than usual. Margueleas expects the first early black seedless grapes will begin hitting the market around the fourth week of May.
“Temperatures have been unusually cool there for a few weeks preceding the start of the harvest,” he says. “That’s wonderful for developing color of the grapes, but it can slow overall maturity of the crop.”
The table grape crop in Sonora, Mexico — the desert valley’s major competitor — has been slow to mature, also, by about 7 to 10 days. As a result, market conditions are expected to remain strong throughout the Coachella-Mexico season.
Marguleas is looking for a relatively normal crop size from the Coachella Valley vineyards despite an earlier frost.
“Recently, growers have been putting in a significant number of more productive varieties and using more productive trellising systems,” he says. “So, we’re looking for an ample crop of 6.5 to 7 million 18-pound from the area this year.”
Usually, the industry struggles with producing good color in early-crop grapes, especially in the desert. But, not this year.
“Color development on early-ripening grapes, like Flame Seedless, has been exceptional,” Marguleas says. “Also, eating quality of the initial harvest is excellent and berry and bunch sizes are also above normal. Overall, the crop looks exceptional.”
He anticipates no problems bringing in the remaining Coachella Valley grapes.
“In many respects, the unseasonably cool temperatures earlier this year can be very positive for grapes, not only color development but also condition and shelf life of the grapes.” Marguelas says. “The hot temperatures that traditionally start the last week of May in the desert will bring on maturity of the mid- to late-season varieties. All in all, it makes for optimal growing conditions this season.”