“All the stars are in a row — we’ve been blessed with a very high quality crop,” says Chuck Olsen, describing this season’s San Joaquin Valley table grapes. “We’re optimistic that this will turn out to be a fairly decent year.”

He’s a managing partner in the family-owned Chuck Olsen Co., based in Visalia, Calif., which grows, packs and ships table grapes. The company, whose vineyards range from Delano to Orange Cove, began picking Flame Seedless July 6 and expects to end its 2009 harvest in late October or early November with Red Globe and Crimson Seedless.

“The fruit has remained very strong,” he says. “The color of both the red and black varieties has come on very well and, depending on variety, we’re measuring from 17 to 20 Brix.”

He attributes the quality to excellent growing weather from early spring through the beginning of harvest. Even though the grapes experienced temperatures above 100 degrees, the heat didn’t persist long enough to affect the final quality, Olsen says.

This high quality, in turn, is contributing to good movement of the crop.

“We’re getting good support from retailers, who seem to like the product, and the grapes are moving off the shelf better than last year,” he says.

The volume of table grapes moving in the Kern and San Joaquin Valley districts was nearly 2 million boxes more through the second week of August than in 2008, he notes.

Adding to Olsen’s optimism this year is the good reception by consumers of new varieties, like Summer Royal, Scarlet Royal, Sweet Scarlet and Autumn King.

Based on what he’s seen so far this season, he believes 2009 shipments of California table grapes could approach the record 99.1 million cartons shipped in 2008.

Prices are about the same, if not a little higher, than last year. For example, Olsen reports the latest f.o.b. prices of about $12 to $15 per box for Princess grapes, $12 to $14 for Thompsons and Flames, around $10 for smaller berry Flames and anywhere from $12 to $16 for Red Globes, which are just now starting to be picked.