This has been about as close to a glitch-free season as it gets for California raisin grape growers. The only hitch has been higher wages they had to pay in a short labor supply market.
The harvest progressed smoothly this year, in marked contrast to last season, when cool, wet spring weather and September rains made for a challenging year.
Fresno County grower/packer Gerald Chooljian, whose family began growing raisin grapes more than 80 years ago, didn’t get all his raisins off the ground until late October last year. This year, he had raisins boxed by mid-September.
He makes raisins in Dovine, Selma Pete and Thompson seedless vineyards near Del Rey, Calif. Chooljian is also president of Del Rey Packing Co.
Harvest began on Aug. 15 when he put his Dovine grapes on the ground. Five days later he cut the canes for his dried-on-the-vine Selma Pete. Shortly after that he hand-harvested the crown fruit from these vines and laid them on trays to dry.
By Sept. 13 the last of his Thompson seedless were on the ground drying. By then some had already been rolled, and the first to finish drying had been boxed.
“We had a very good growing season, with no disease or insect concerns,” Chooljian says. “The weather during harvest has been excellent. It’s nice to have an easier-drying year.”
What pleases him most about his crop this year, though, is the quality. He starts harvesting his grapes in the 20 to 22 Brix. By the time the last Thompson Seedless vine was picked this year, sugar levels were reading 23 to 24 Brix, he reports.
“The grapes were extremely green when we picked them, and the raisins are beautiful,” Chooljian say. “If raisins were rated like wines, this would be a vintage year for the crop.”
He expects to have picked up all his raisins this year by the first week of next week. By then, he says, he’ll have a better measure of yields. However, he expects production this year to be slightly less than in 2011
“In some blocks, production is lower, and in others it’s the same or a little higher than last year,” Chooljian says.
Based on reports earlier in the season of a shortage of labor to pick tree fruit in the San Joaquin Valley, he was expecting fewer workers to pick this year’s raising grape crop. However, an early start of harvest helped alleviate what could have been a bigger problem, he says.
“We are fortunate that we had an earlier season,” Chooljian says. “The labor situation was a little difficult when we started picking the grapes. But as some growers completed their harvest, more crews became available. And, they were able to finish before the Sept. 20 insurance deadline.”