No smoke worries for table grape harvest

Tim Hearden Table grapes
Table grapes grown in California are ready to be enjoyed. The fresh grape industry expects this season’s production to nearly match 2019-20 totals.
A promotable volume of the fruit will be available through December, industry leaders say.

Sunny fall skies have buoyed the harvest of fresh grapes in California’s San Joaquin Valley, which is moving steadily toward a December conclusion, according to industry leaders.

“Fall is a beautiful time of year to harvest grapes in California,” said Kathleen Nave, president of the California Table Grape Commission. “The vineyards are full of fruit, the mornings are cool and the afternoons are sunny and warm but not hot.”

Many newer varieties of table grapes were bred to be harvested in the fall, Nave said.

“Nearly 50 percent of the California grape volume is shipped to consumers from October through January, making California grapes very much a fall and early winter fruit,” she said.

And while wildfire smoke spoiled some wine grapes and caused a delay in drying some raisin grapes, the smoke didn’t harm the valley’s table grape crop, commission spokesman Jeff Cardinale told Farm Press.

“Smoke taint isn’t an issue in table grapes,” he said. “This comes from viticulture research and first-hand knowledge.”

Supply to meet demand

The officials’ remarks came as the commission has been pushing back against seemingly annual suggestions from foreign growers that California production could fall short of what is needed to supply the U.S. market. “California has dominated grape sales through December for years and this season is no different,” Nave said.

The panel recently posted several grower videos reporting on the progress of the more than 80 varieties of table grapes that are grown in the Golden State.

The commission has estimated that this year’s crop would come close to matching last year’s production of 104.99 million 19-pound boxes. The August estimate was down slightly from the commission’s April prediction of 106.5 million boxes. “The significant amount of vineyard removal in 2019 appears to have been offset by new vineyards coming into production in 2020,” Nave said in August.

She has noted that 65 percent of the California table grape crop is typically shipped after Sept. 3, with deliveries continuing into January. “Quality is excellent and demand is strong in the U.S. and in export markets,” she said, noting that grapes are “a perfect fit for consumers in these complicated times: simple, flavorful, versatile and full of health-enhancing phytonutrients that boost immune health.”

To boost demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the state’s fresh grape industry has been touting the fruit’s benefits to the body’s immune system. The commission this spring produced an information sheet that combines results of health research on the benefits that table grapes provide to brain, heart and colon health.

In August, the commission launched three new cable-TV commercials highlighting grapes’ California origin, snacking convenience and health benefits. The panel also teamed this fall with the Radio Health Journal network to develop more than a dozen segments airing in broadcasts on more than 1,400 radio stations around the country.

Variety of benefits

In the radio presentations, dietitian Courtney Romano discusses a variety of grape and health topics with hosts, including ways that grapes can contribute to heart, brain and colon health as well as tips for maintaining a healthy weight, ideas for fall snacking, and managing foods for festive occasions, according to a commission news release.

“Boosting immune health has emerged as an important area of interest for people around the world,” said Romano, the commission’s health advisor. “Grapes, which are being harvested now in California, can be an important addition to an immune-boosting diet.”

The commission’s TV ads concluded Oct. 18, but digital media promotions will continue through November, print ads will continue through December publications and radio and social media presentations will continue through the end of the season, Cardin

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