The opening winery offer of a minimum of $250 per ton for this year’s green Thompson seedless grapes for crushing represents the highest price ever paid for the multi-use grape that has for decades been the foundation of the San Joaquin Valley grape industry.

Nat DiBuduo, president of the Allied Grape Growers, the state’s largest wine marketing cooperative, said an initial $250 offer ($240 plus $10 hauling allowance) has come from Constellation Wines, the third largest wine company in the U.S., behind The Wine Group and Gallo.

Other, smaller wineries have also committed to paying $250 per ton.

DiBuduo expects other wineries which also buy Thompsons will follow suit.

Thompson seedless grapes are crushed green for use in concentrate, dry white wine, brandy and champagne. Last year’s Thompson crush totaled more than 268,000 tons, seventh on the list of leading crush varieties. Thompsons accounted for 6 percent of last year’s total crush. Last year’s average price for green Thompsons was $218 per ton.

The majority of the Thompson seedless acreage is dried into raisins.

The difference between the 2009 final price and 2010 offer represents an additional $320 per acre in income on a 10-ton per acre Thompson vineyard crop. The $250 green price is almost $1,000 per acre more than wineries paid for 2006 and 2007 green Thompsons.

DiBuduo said Allied is weighing the initial 2011 offers.

The enticing price offer represents strong demand for green Thompsons in a year where raisin growers are expected to get $1,500 per ton for raisins, for the second year in a row.

DiBuduo and Glen Goto, president of the Raisin Bargaining Association, said the record green price offers Thompson growers profit-making alternatives like they have not seen in decades.

It could not come at a better time, since this crop is very late and being challenged by heavy powdery mildew pressure, which can affect grape and raisin quality, and ripening.