Enjoy California Table Grapes Year-Round

Harvest Will Continue into December

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

The California grape season is beginning, and the harvest will continue into the winter. California Ag Today recently spoke with Kathleen Nave, president of the Fresno based California Table Grape Commission, about table grapes.

The California Table Grape Commission was established by an act of the state legislature in 1967 and approved by a grower referendum in 1969. The purpose of the commission is to maintain and expand markets for fresh California grapes and to create new, larger interstate and foreign markets.

Kathleen Nave, California Table Grape Commission president
Kathleen Nave, California Table Grape Commission president

“We are just getting started with a California season. We will be picking grapes all the way into December,” Nave said.

Grapes are a spring, summer, fall and early winter fruit. Sixty percent of the table grapes that are harvested in the state of California are harvested after September first.

“I would just ask people to remember that they can enjoy California grapes in the spring and the summer, in the fall and into the early winter,” Nave said.

There are new varieties of California table grapes. These grapes have been grown by and designed to provide more product for the customer.

“New varieties of grapes were created that would allow growers to continue growing and harvesting in the late October, November, and December time period,” Nave explained.

These varieties were created with the climate in mind. This way, they can thrive and be packed and shipped in November and early December.

“It takes a long time to develop new varieties of table grapes, get them out in the field, learn how to grow them and to get them to the marketplace,” Nave said.

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California Table Grape Commission is Raisin the Bar for a Fruitful Industry

Research is Huge for the Commission

By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor

With grape season in full swing, there’s an abundance of fresh, local grapes in our grocery stores. While our farmers are hard at work, so is the California Table Grape Commission, and their president Kathleen Nave. They are not only making their presence known in the media but are constantly doing research to improve the industry as a whole.

The California Table Grape Commission has been doing viniculture research since 1972 and is funded by growers.

“The commission does a lot of research on ways in which to help growers grow more grapes more efficiently,” Nave said.

This is done by trying to figure out how to grow grapes with fewer inputs, an example being less water.

Nave also explained the research they do to find the benefits of eating grapes, saying, “We do a lot of health research on those 1,600 phytonutrients that are found in grapes to try to pin down the ways in which grapes are good for us, as it relates to various disease states.”

Kathleen Nave, California Table Grape Commission president
Kathleen Nave, California Table Grape Commission president

Although research is huge for the commission, Nave described their relationship with retailers in the U.S., Canada, and about 30 other countries as “the heart of the commission’s work.” This includes urging retailers to promote grapes by putting them on the shelf, offering multiple varieties, and carrying California grapes from May to January.

In addition, Nave talked about the major presence the commission is making in the media in order to reach consumers.

“We’re on The Food Network [on] television as well as The Cooking Channel, and then we do a lot on social media,” Nave said.

The commission is active on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. In fact, Nave noted that their social media presence has quadrupled in the past two years.

Their goal is to showcase the beauty and versatility of California Grapes and make known the quality of work that the California table grape growers are doing every day.

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Time for California Table Grapes

Buy Local: Make a Difference One Grape at a Time

By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor

You might want to take a second look when reaching for fresh grapes in your local grocery store, said Kathleen Nave, president of the Fresno-based California Table Grape Commission.  She urged buyers to choose California table grapes when grocery shopping.

Kathleen Nave, California Table Grape Commission president
Kathleen Nave, California Table Grape Commission president

“It can be convenient to reach for the nearest bag in the store when turning to grapes for a healthy snack, but what if we told you those grapes could be from places as far as Mexico or Chile? What if we then gave you the option to have some right out of your backyard?” Nave asked.

“If you have the choice, please choose the California grapes, because those are the grapes that are supporting our rural communities here,” she said.

Nave explained that the California Grape Commission is pushing retailers hard to get their grapes up on the shelf, and they need consumers to support them. She said that if the bag says U.S., then it is from California, as California grows 99 percent of the grapes that are commercially produced in the United States.

Nave explained that the best way to make sure you are buying local is by asking.

“Ask your produce manager for U.S. or for California grapes. That’ll make a big difference,” she said.

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2018 California Table Grape Season Under way

Table Grapes are Versatile And Healthy

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

California table grapes are now being harvested. Kathleen Nave, president of the Fresno-based California Table Grape Commission told California Ag Today that fresh grapes are now available in local stores.

“California table grape growers began picking a couple of weeks ago, and consumers should be able to find California grapes in their stores today. And certainly, as the season progresses, grapes will be more and more available,” Nave said.

Kathleen Nave, California Table Grape Commission president
Kathleen Nave, California Table Grape Commission president

Consumers should be buying grapes for the taste as well as good health.

“Grapes contain about 1600 different phytonutrients—all kinds of things that are really good for us, and many important vitamins. There’s something magical in grapes that appears to have a lot of potential health benefits.”

Nave said she tells people that they need to be eating grapes basically every day because there’s something really good for us in the combination of things that are in grapes, and that’s grapes of all colors: red, green and black.

“They definitely taste great. Kids love them. So you know, they’re a healthy snack. They look beautiful when you add them to things like salads or you know, even pizza. You can even roast them. So they’re amazingly versatile and then they’re so good for us,” Nave said.

There are about 450 table grape operations in the state, from Southern California to Madera.

“There are vineyards in the Coachella Valley. We have long had a group of growers growing grapes in the desert,” Nave said. “Those are the earliest grapes that are available and are found in stores now, And then of course in the San Joaquin Valley, we have table grape growers from the Tehachapi Mounts North into the Madera area.”

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Offering Grapes in School Lunch Promotes Better Eating

Less Waste When Grapes Were Served

By Jeff Cardinale, California Table Grape Commission

Offering fresh grapes as part of the school lunch menu helped improve the school lunch eating behaviors of children in a pilot study conducted through Texas A&M University.

The study looked at the effects on plate waste when fresh grapes were offered compared to when they were not offered. The results show that when the school meals included grapes, consumption of healthier menu items increased, suggesting that grapes can serve as a “gateway” fruit to healthier eating.

The study was conducted in two elementary schools and two middle schools from one school district in Texas. Grapes were made available on “grape days” as an offered fruit choice. Non-grape days were defined as days when grapes were not offered.

Study results included:

  • When offered as a fruit choice, grapes were minimally wasted.
  • On grape days, lost dollars attributed to vegetable plate waste was significantly less than on non-grape days.
  • Intakes of effective calories, fat, sodium, protein, and fiber per serving of entrees, vegetables and fruits on grape days were higher than on non-grape days.
  • On grape days, the children consumed more of the school lunch, which is an overall goal of school lunch.

“Our study shows that offering grapes in school lunches is a smart strategy that goes beyond grapes’ status as a favorite fruit to grapes having a beneficial impact on the degree to which students make healthy choices, and on their consumption of the school lunch overall,” said Dr. Peter S. Murano, co-author of the study.

It is hoped that schools across the country take note of the benefits of serving California table grapes in an effort to help encourage good eating habits for the students.

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Ciatti Co. Hoping for a Smaller Winegrapes Crop in 2017

Brexit Also A Concern for California Sellers

By Joanne Lui, Associate Editor

The Ciatti Company – a worldwide company headquartered in San Rafael, CA – has been in the wine, grape concentrate and spirit brokerage business since 1971. They are experts in the industry, and President Greg Livengood spoke to California Ag Today recently to give an update on this year’s harvest and prices around the globe.

Ciatti Co. President Greg Livengood
Ciatti Co. President Greg Livengood

“World supply is down a little bit this year from last. We saw some major weather events in the southern hemisphere to start out the year. … Starting in January in Argentina, we saw a fair amount of rain throughout the harvest. They were down a little over 30 percent from their three-million-ton average harvest and that really set the tone for South America,” Livengood said.

“Right behind that, the Chileans got going. They hit about the halfway point of their harvest when El Nino came and slapped them around a little bit. It rained very hard there – five major weather events – and their crop was down at least 20 percent, but in addition to that, they probably would have been down more, but they tried to salvage some of that fruit that suffered a lot of damage from the rain.”

According to Livengood, all of this may not affect pricing in California.

“It certainly helps to set a floor, a pricing floor, and that floor has come up,” Livengood said. “I don’t know that pricing necessarily will go in any direction here based on what happened down there, but … it’s a much more shallow dive that pricing could potentially take here if things go the wrong way.”

A real concern for California winemakers is actually Brexit – Britain’s exit from the European Union.

“ U.K.’s been a very good … market for wine. It is. They don’t grow a lot of their own so they’re buying it from everywhere else. It’s been a very good market for the U.S. The problem with Brexit is the economy. It’s the value of the pound, so the pound took a big hit when Brexit was announced. There’s concern it will take more of a hit. That decreases their buying power and that’s a concern for us here in the U.S. because our prices are generally a little bit higher than all of our competitors around the world,” Livengood said.

“We’re selling on the California name and we’re selling on quality and so as that consumer and as that retail buyer in the U.K. has less buying power, we do have concern that they may look for alternatives to California.”

Overall, Livengood actually hopes for a smaller crop worldwide because high crop yields in multiple years isn’t necessarily a good thing for the industry.

“You never want really long oversupply.  2013, worldwide, it was a bumper crop just about everywhere.  We had too much wine in ‘14 and ’15 … and it’s taken us almost three years to really eat through a lot of that inventory.  A shorter worldwide crop here in 16 is certainly something that we would welcome.”

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Wilson Vineyards Fully Mechanized

Mechanization is Future for Winegrapes

Ken Wilson, winegrape grower and owner of Wilson Vineyards in Clarksburg, just south of Sacramento, farms 12 different winegrape varieties and has been enjoying a productive season despite hot weather. Wilson’s top winegrape varieties are Chardonnay, Petite Sirah and Pinot Grigio (Italian), also known as Pinot Gris (French), and Chenin Blanc.

Presently, Wilson’s winegrapes are past veraison, a stage of ripening in the physical grape maturation cycle in which the berry starts to soften and take on sweetness and color. Veraison is an excellent phase for the winegrapes to be in at this point in the season.

Wilson elaborated, “Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are probably the furthest ahead, then Pinot Noir at 50 to 60%, and finally, Chardonnay around 30%. We’re getting good color and size now.”

Despite hot weather this year, Wilson says, “it hasn’t been too bad.” Most of his grapes are already contracted, and he anticipates a good vintage. “There are a couple of tons here and there, but [the winegrapes] have been pretty much sold out since early spring,” Wilson commented.

Wilson warned the higher cost of labor due to the recent minimum wage increase in California from $10 per hour currently to $15 in 2020. “We get pretty good winegrape prices. I’m not speaking for the district. I don’t know how some of these guys are going to survive,” he explained.

“We’re going to be forced into mechanization, and the wineries are just going to have to accept it. I think they are going to accept it, if they don’t want to pay [labor increases] anymore,” Wilson said.

Nevertheless, Wilson is more fortunate than some other growers because his vineyard is completely mechanized. “We’re 100 percent machine—other than a couple of special jobs where the winery who wants the grapes will pay for workers for hand harvest.

In comparison to Wilson Vineyards, vineyards in the Napa and Sonoma regions will experience significant wage increases because their winegrapes are hand-harvested. “The only hand harvesting we do amounts to less than one percent,” Wilson said.

Though Wilson evaluated this year’s crop as better than last year, “I think, overall, it is probably not much better than an average harvest, and yields may even be a little lighter than the average. I would say overall about 7.5 tons of winegrapes,” Wilson noted.

 

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Grape Commission Awards Education Grants

Schools in the table grape growing regions of California’s San Joaquin and Coachella valleys are benefiting from grants awarded this academic year.

In total, 36 education grants worth up to $750 were awarded by the California Table Grape Commission on behalf of California’s table grape growers. The funded projects will be implemented in the current academic year and will reach over 4,000 students.

“California’s table grape growers have been supporting local education for years,” said Kathleen Nave, president of the commission. “This program is one of the ways table grape growers give back to the communities in which they live and work.”

Examples of the projects include raised garden boxes for children with special needs, inspiring youth through chess and music, programming robots, growing grapes, and modern microscopy and cell metabolism.

The Innovation in Teaching education grant program was created in 1993 to support innovative educational projects in the table grape growing regions of California’s San Joaquin and Coachella valleys.

For more information, go to www.grapesfromcalifornia.com/EducationGrants.php.

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CDFA Announces Dates for PD/GWSS Winegrape Grower Referendum

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has announced important dates for this year’s vote on the continuation of the statewide Pierce’s Disease and Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter (PD/GWSS) winegrape assessment.

Current plans call for the ballots to be mailed to California’s winegrape growers on or about March 30, 2015. The ballots will be due back 30 days after mailing, although this date can be extended. The results of the vote will be announced about two weeks after the voting period concludes.

Since 2001, the PD/GWSS assessment has been one of the primary sources of funding for research on PD and its primary vector, the glassy-winged sharpshooter. In 2010 winegrape growers voted to not only continue the assessment but authorized the PD/GWSS Board to spend assessment funds for research and outreach on other pests and diseases that are serious threats to California winegrapes. Since then, the Board has designated the European grapevine moth, red blotch, vine mealybug, and brown marmorated stink bug as serious threats to winegrapes.

Growers (whether individuals or companies) who paid the assessment on grapes grown in 2014 are eligible to vote. Accordingly, growers will receive a ballot for each of the separate legal entities they represent.  Growers are urged to verify that the number of ballots they receive is correct and report any discrepancies to CDFA. Winegrape growers with any questions about the assessment can contact the CDFA Pierce’s Disease Control Program at (916) 900-5024. Questions about the referendum (including the number of ballots you received) should be directed to the CDFA Marketing Branch at (916) 900-5018.

The PD/GWSS winegrape assessment was established in July 2001 to support scientific research to find solutions to Pierce’s disease. The PD/GWSS Board, composed of winegrape growers, advises CDFA on the use of the assessment.

Pierce’s disease has no known cure and, left unchecked, could be devastating to the winegrape industry. A study released in 2009 by the Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers estimated the total annual economic impact of California’s winegrape industry at $62 billion within the state and $122 billion nationally.

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Water Crisis Reducing Valley Fruit Production

The impact of the worsening drought can be seen in the expected drop in crop production.

Valley fruit production is down on many farms, but the lack of water isn’t the only factor causing the lower expectations.

The grape crop is ready for harvest in many Valley vineyards but there’s not nearly as much of the sweet fruit this year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects grape production in California to dip 9 percent.

“We came off two big years in both wine grapes and Thompson seedless, so those vines are taking a little bit of a rest,” said Nat Dibuduo with Allied Grape Growers. “The other factor is obviously the drought. We’ve got growers that lost wells or they’re minimizing their irrigations to stretch out the water they do have.”

Table olives fared even worse with the dry conditions. Production is expected to dip 45 percent statewide but as much as 60 percent in Tulare County. 

“When olive trees go into dormancy they need some good deep soil moisture and they didn’t get it,” said Adin Hester with the Olive Growers Council. “The lack of moisture is something that certainly exacerbated, number one. Number two, we’ve got growers that are just flat out of water.”

Peach production is down 4 percent. We’re seeing peach, olive and grape growers rip out orchards and vineyards to put in more profitable crops like almonds and pistachios.

“I think there’s going to be not only Thompson seedless grapes pulled out after this harvest but also wine grapes throughout the San Joaquin Valley because they’re not making money, and they see their neighbors are making money with any of the various nut crops,” said Dibuduo.

Dibuduo is worried about this year’s outlook. He says winery demand for Valley grapes has taken a big hit because of international competition. Some grapes, he says, might not get sold.

Other crops like pears, apples and rice are also down from a year ago.

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