Allied Grape Growers, headquartered in Fresno, could be poised for its highest sales revenue in 15 years, possibly pushing above the $100 million mark in gross returns from this year’s crop of wine grapes.

That observation by Nat DiBuduo, president and CEO of Allied, was a highlight of the group’s 61st annual meeting in Fresno, where a keynote speaker also talked of using negotiating skills that could be employed to build or keep association membership or hammer out better prices.

DiBuduo also talked of continuing negotiations that could put the price for Thompson Seedless grapes sold to concentrate at a record $300 per ton, above last year’s record of $265.

If that price is nailed down, DiBuduo said, raisin growers “better be getting $1,800 or more” per ton for their crop. That would also be a record.

DiBuduo cautioned that the realization of a $100 million return for Allied could be soured by bad weather around harvest time. He said last year’s crop was hit by fall rains and “destruction of some great grapes.”

“Some of our younger winemakers had never experienced the quality issues they had to deal with, especially with their sales staff demanding more finished product,” DiBuduo said.

He said the expected scenario for 2012 is the best he has seen in his 12 years as CEO at Allied: “The demand for grapes started right around late winter, early spring with good prices and terms for wine grapes we haven’t seen in quite awhile. Most years I’m still trying to sell grapes as they are coming off the vine. But now, we jokingly say, ‘If it looks like a grape, smells like a grape and tastes like a grape, we have the demand to sell it.’”

The gross value for the 2011 crop sold through Allied was $93 million.

Allied has 600 members and sells to 100 wineries.  Like many grower associations, it wrestles with the challenge of remaining viable, trying to convince non-members of the benefits of joining.

The group was given some pointers on the importance of using persuasion — whether negotiating with buyers, keeping membership strong or resolving interpersonal conflicts — by Dave Westerholm, a negotiating consultant with Universal Solvent in Pacific Palisades, Calif.

Westerholm sent participants home with a video on “The Pear Growers' Dilemma, What Happens When a Bargaining Association Collapses,” a documentary about negotiation that all but gutted the California Pear Growers Association for want of membership.