California Table Grapes: Heading North for Harvest
Posted on August 4th, 2014
The start of August marks a turning point in the California table grape growing season. The season begins in the Coachella Valley, California’s southernmost growing region in late spring. However, by mid-July the southern season has ended and harvesting moves north to the San Joaquin Valley and continues through late fall. The good news is that most varieties of California table grapes are available from May to January because of advanced storage techniques combined with this sequential harvesting from south to north. Harvesting is both an art and a science for the grower. Of the more than 70 varieties of fresh grapes grown in California, science contributes to each variety’s own individual characteristics and flavors.
The science of harvesting
Determining grape ripeness involves a fair amount of science. Grape production standards are set and monitored by both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and California Department of Food and Agriculture. Characteristics such as sugar content or brix, color, berry size and uniformity are all measured before harvest begins. The workers are trained professionals who combine their training with years of experience to decide which grapes to clip.
The importance of handling
Rough handling, warm temperatures, excessive moisture and decay-causing organisms are all factors that easily damage fresh grapes. Steps are taken often right in the field to carefully inspect grape bunches and immediately pack them by hand into shipping containers. Our quality control partners in California are an important part of this process.
Once the grapes are set in containers the field heat is removed from the fruit in cold storage facilities. The grapes will be maintained in a carefully regulated environment from this point until they reach their destination in markets throughout the world ensuring they arrive in just-picked condition.
Farmers and family
Farming is very often a family tradition spanning generations. Of the nearly 550 farmers who produce California’s fresh grape crop most of them are family farmers with a long history in the business. And today these California farm families are responsible for 98% percent of the commercially grown table grapes produced in the United States. About a third of California’s table grapes are exported to 60 overseas markets including China, Mexico, Canada and Australia at the top of the list. The total annual crop value of grapes from California is over $1 billion dollars.
The 2014 season
For 2014, the crop was officially estimated at just over 116.5 million boxes at the start of the season. According to The Produce News:
“The California Table Grape Commission revisited the estimate at its meeting on July 17 and reaffirmed that number, notwithstanding some early vineyards in the San Joaquin Valley picking out a little lighter than growers had anticipated, attesting their confidence that if all went as expected, strong volumes would be realized throughout the balance of the season.
In the San Joaquin Valley, California’s largest grape growing region, the 2014 harvest started earlier than usual — earlier than ever for some growers — with varieties coming off from one week to as much as two weeks earlier than average.”
The harvest looks strong but as always, call us for the latest details on availability. Enter our Virtual Cooler for our in stock varieties.