Under a California sun, workers are busy picking, harvesting and loading cartons of table grapes early in the morning.
“During the harvest season, we’ll get days of 110 degrees or 115 degrees. So, we try to get as much done in the morning as possible,” says Tom Clark, director of farming and operations for Sun World in Coachella, Calif.
The Coachella Valley isn’t the biggest table-grape growing area in California. “Total cartons produced in Coachella this year is estimated in recent years and has been about five million total cartons. That is small to San Joaquin Valley, which is the major growing region where they have 120 million cartons,” says Clark.
What Coachella does have is timing. “The product in Coachella fits a window from the completion of the import product coming in from Chile, to where we start and before our San Joaquin Valley operation starts,” says Clark.
But before bags of Sun World’s grapes can arrive in households, lots of work must happen between the vines. “Right now, they’re harvesting,” explains Monica Escoto, the company’s director of quality assurance. “They’re selecting the best grapes for production.”
Harvesters pick for quality, color, size and sugar. “If the quality is good and the size is good, then once we have the sugar, we’re ready to go,” says Escoto.
How do they measure the sugar in the grapes? Harvesters use a device called a refractometer. “We take a berry from the top, middle and the bottom. Then, we squeeze,” explains Escoto, who says currently they are seeing a level of 17 brix, which indicates how much sugar the grapes contain. “That’s outstanding. With that, you could export anywhere.”
All markets want the sweetness, but in different sizes. That’s why workers are using multiple sizing rings. Grapes with a size 13/16 could be “easily shipped to Australia, China or the United Kingdom,” Escoto says.
The Coachella area has an advantage. It’s one area harvesting earlier, wrapping up around July 1.
“The product in Coachella fits a window from the completion of the import product coming in from Chile to where we start and before our San Joaquin Valley operation starts,” says Clark.
It’s an important area, but fewer acres than other valleys.
“Total cartons produced in Coachella this year is estimated in recent years has been about five million total cartons. Which is small relative to the San Joaquin Valley, a major growing region where they have 120 million cartons,” says Clark.
Those are cartons for workers who are staying busy during the home stretch of the season. It’s a bonus for consumers, who long for juicy tables grapes this summer.