July 18 marked the start of the San Joaquin Valley harvest for table grape producer and marketer Stevco, when crews began picking Sugraone at its Lucich Farms’ Maricopa vineyard in southwestern Kern County. The next variety expected to reach acceptable sugar levels is Summer Royal.
Although the season is starting about 10 days later than usual, it’s beginning on a high note, says Dave Clyde, president of Stevco. “Overall, the crop looks very good; we have good berry size and good production, and demand is better than we’ve seen in the last few years.”
That unusually strong demand reflects about a two-week gap in the supply of grapes between the end of the harvest in the desert table grape producing areas (Coachella Valley and Mexico) and the San Joaquin Valley.
Normally the two overlap. But this year, Clyde explains, consumers stepped up demand for the late-season desert grapes to make up for the lack of cherries from Washington, where weather delayed development and harvest of that crop. In fact, the first Washington cherries were scarce in stores until after July 4. In the meantime, many consumers kept buying more table grapes for fresh fruit.
“They cleaned out the stockpiles of table grapes, which has really left us in a short supply situation as the San Joaquin Valley season starts.”
That demand, fed by the excellent quality of the Coachella Valley crop and coupled with desert grape production, which was a little on the light side this year, also is strengthening prices.
Assuming normal summer weather, Clyde expects the San Joaquin Valley crop will catch up with the normal calendar later in the season. He’s also looking for the strong table grape market to continue.
“Consumers have been buying in pretty good numbers,” Clyde says. “The Coachella Valley and Mexico deals tend to set the tempo for the San Joaquin Valley season. That would be very nice, because the San Joaquin Valley is the heart of the California grape deal. We hope we can supply the consumer with superior product that will have them coming back for more.”