PESQUEIRA, MEXICO — The roughly 10-week harvest in the Hermosillo, Sonora, area was in full-swing in early June, when 1,000 workers at Grupo Agrícola Alta’s Pozo Manuel vineyards labored to get as many as 25 trucks a day on their way to the three-hour drive to the U.S. port of entry at Nogales, AZ. Depending on the client, Grupo Agrícula packs in bags or plastic containers known as clamshells.
Grupo Agrícula is now growing on 700 acres,including, in declining order, Thompson seedless, Perlettes, Flame, black seedless, Sugarone and Red Globe varieties. The farm also produces 220 acres of watermelon, 40 acres of mini-watermelons and 40 acres of honeydew.
It is a scene of symphonic precision at 7:15 a.m. as some of the 1,000 workers at this ranch await the go-ahead to cut and box. The workers must wait because the Brix must reach 15.5 before grapes can be harvested. The fields are spotless. Workers at receiving stations sprinkled throughout the farm are packing already-labeled (in English) boxes. Grapes come off the vine at temperatures as high as 90 degrees and are taken to the packing area where they are put in a pre-cooler for up to four hours. They are then placed in cold storage at 32 degrees and readied for transport to Nogales in trailers one degree higher. If everything goes well, the trailer makes the trip to Nogales in three hours. If paperwork is in order and quality is acceptable, crossing should take as little as an hour or two.
Grupo Alta, like its competitors, pays close attention to harvest dates because production early or late may be the difference between an average year and fabulous one. The Pesquiera-area harvest is already a full month ahead of Caborca, 160 miles to the northwest, and 10 days before vineyards in Hermosillo and Bahía de Kino, on the Sonora coast.
The Sonora industry, which did not exist 32 years ago, is expected to produce 16.3 million 19-pound boxes this season, according to the Asociación Agrícola Local de Productores de Uva de Mesa, or AALPUM, the grower’s group. More than 90 percent of those grapes are to be exported to the United States and 29 other countries.