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Desert Fresh expecting later start

Tony Bianco of Desert Fresh Inc. in Coachella, CA, was very happy this winter when temperatures dipped low in the California desert and allowed the grape vines to go into dormancy.

“We had some very nice chilling hours, which are great for the grapes,” he said. “We had no dormancy last year and that was a problem.”

20160505 092231 The colder temperatures helped to stretch out the growing season and Bianco is not expecting to pick his first grape until the second half of May, which is a far cry from the late April or early May start dates of most of the last handful of years.

“I’m guessing we will get started around May 20,” he said in mid-April. “The crop looks beautiful. What I see out there is vines with lots of bunches and good fruit size. We should have a very good crop.”

The late start is only late in contrast to the last four or five years. For many years, a late May deal was the norm. Bianco said this year’s deal should be met with a strong market as he expects Chilean fruit will be out of the marketplace by then. The timing of Mexico’s spring grape crop is typically fairly similar to Coachella and so Bianco does expect a small gap between the winter grapes and the spring grapes. That should mean a robust market to kick off the deal.

Like grape growers all over California, Desert Fresh has adjusted its varietal mix to keep up with the newer varieties. Because of its unique growing conditions, Coachella does tend to hang on to older varieties a bit longer, but both Perlettes and Thompson Seedless are now part of history. “We will start with Flames and then move to the Sugraones and the Valley Pearls,” said Bianco. “We will also have Scarlets and Summer Royals.”

Bianco said an advantage to the switch in varieties in the valley is it also means younger, stronger vines that tend to produce larger fruit. So he expects a nice rebound from last year’s volume, which he characterized as being “way off.”

Because of the late May start, he said production should go into July — probably mid-July. The length of the season is dependent upon the weather. The Coachella Valley is known for its temperatures soaring above 100 degrees in the summer. Over the last few years, there have been some instances when temperatures rose above 110 and approached 115 or even higher. Those temperatures lead to the end of the season as the heat stress on both the crops and the workers takes its toll.