Joaquin Grapes: Big and Better

In television, the so-called second season is basically reruns. In the table grape business, it's nothing of the sort.

The San Joaquin Valley grape harvest--as opposed to the early Coachella Valley harvest--is up and running. And this year in particular, there's little or no resemblance between the two.

This spring's Coachella harvest was weather-hampered and small--as much as 30% off the norm. Quality was spotty.

In the San Joaquin Valley, the harvest is big, only slightly smaller than last year's record. And the quality is looking very good indeed, thanks to the weather.

"We've had probably a good two weeks of 100-degree-plus weather," says Bruce Obbink of the California Table Grape Commission. "A month ago we had a series of cool nights, and that really got the color up. Then it got hot and the heat brings the sugar up.

"What we've wound up with is an absolute vintage crop in terms of flavor, color and size. The only bad news is that it's coming all at once. For the next two months, people are going to get some absolute best buys on table grapes."

Incidentally, when you get your grapes home, just stick them in the refrigerator. Don't wash them until you're ready to serve them; moisture speeds the decaying process. And don't park your grapes next to apples, kiwis, peaches, plums or nectarines. Those fruits give off an ethylene gas when they're ripening and that deteriorates the grapes.

In other grape news, there's a big new variety in the vineyards this year. Plantings of the Crimson seedless grape have increased by 50% over last year. A red fall grape, it will be in competition with industry-standard Ruby seedless. Ruby still holds a decided edge (7.5 million boxes this year, compared to 1.8 million for Crimson), but at least one shipper has gone on record as saying, "Crimson is the finest eating grape there is."

Stay tuned.

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