Message from Donnell Brown, President of the National Grape & Wine Initiative – Nearly all (99%) of America’s table grapes are grown in California. And thanks to the diversity of the state’s terroir and the industry’s adaptive breeding programs, table grapes have the longest harvest timeline of all grape crops here. This year, harvest began in the desert of Southern California’s Coachella Valley in May and will likely wrap up in the San Joaquin Valley near Fresno in early December. I recently visited some growers to witness harvest firsthand. What I learned is that these gorgeous grapes are a testament to science and teamwork.
Of all grapes grown, table grapes have the highest aesthetic requirements. Destined for the fresh market, they must be large, robustly colorful and unblemished. But beauty is more than skin deep. Table grapes’ other desirable characteristics include seedlessness, a crisp crunch, firm flesh and sweet flavor. They didn’t just evolve this way on their own, of course. Today’s table grapes are the product of intense and highly competitive breeding programs, investment in research, and table grape growers’ know-how and experience.
You can see the impact of science and viticultural practices right on the vine. Prolific varieties can bloom several times in a growing season. The primary (main) crop that blooms in late April or May receives tons of care and attention, some of which begins well before bloom. It’s clear to see the effects of pruning, leaf pulling, shoot positioning, irrigation timing and the application of plant growth regulators such as gibberellic acid on the first fruit.
Table grapes are hand-harvested, inspected, and bagged for sale and packed for distribution, most often right in the field. “Swamping” the boxes onto trucks is a feat of teamwork, strength and trust, as one worker tosses the packed boxes into the air for another to catch, stack and secure for transport. Grapes are trucked to nearby cold-storage facilities where they are pre-cooled before being shipped or stored. They can be cold-stored in pristine condition for up to three months.