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Jalisco vineyards give Divine Flavor a jump on grape season

Tim Linden

With significant vineyard acreage deep in Mexico in the state of Jalisco, Divine Flavor is able to get a start on its south-of-the-border grape shipments six to eight weeks before the country’s traditional Sonora grape-growing region comes into play in mid-May.

“We started packing on March 20 in a very light way,” said Carlos Bon, vice president of sales for the Nogales, AZ-based company, noting that the main window for Jalisco grapes is in the April 15 to May 15 time frame.

Bon said Chilean grape supplies typically start declining in late April, with the Sonoran Desert table grape crop beginning to mature by the middle of May. He added that Divine Flavor’s marketing strategy is to try to have a “clean transition” between the districts, which gives growers and shippers in all districts a fair share of the market during their time frame.

He added that Divine Flavor’s early Jalisco production consists of varieties that are declining in numbers from Chile, which does offer a smooth switch from district to district for its customers.

Bon said of utmost importance to Divine Flavor is that no grape is shipped before it reaches its optimum level of maturity. “Flavor is in our name and in our blood,” he said. “We do not want to do anything that detracts from that.”

He continued that the various production areas are competitive but a respect for the flavor of the grape before it is picked, packed and shipped allows every area to deliver optimum flavor to the consumer, which is the ultimate goal.

“We don’t tell the retailer what grapes they should buy, but having grapes in multiple regions allows us to give fantastic options for a longer period of time.”

Bon said the 2023 Jalisco deal appears as if it will produce an excellent season. “It looks like a real good year,” he said. “We have big fruit and clean bunches and the quality is good.”

Divine Flavor expects to begin shipping in earnest around April 4 from Jalisco, continuing until mid-May. He noted that it was a mild winter and mild spring in Jalisco, which are both aligned with good growing conditions.

The Jalisco grape volume is made up of mostly green varieties with no organic production, as that is very difficult to achieve in that specific region. Included in the mix will be more volume of the Cotton Candy variety, one of the sweet varieties that many grape growers are devoting new acreage to.

“The Sonoran Desert has been cooler than usual, so we are expecting a later start,” Bon said, adding that the volume will be a bit scarce at the front end of the Sonoran deal, especially on greens. “It will be a lot like the 2021 season. There should be a concentration of volume in the month of June with pretty significant numbers.”

He added that Divine Flavor will also have good volume from Sonora in July with some late-season varieties such as Sweet Globe and Sweet Celebration.

“We’re seeing low bunch counts on the early varieties but more fruit on the later varieties,” Bon said, adding that Divine Flavor should have grapes from Mexico for its U.S. customers until the end of July, including a proprietary variety late in the month that is looking very good.

Bon reiterated that Divine Flavor’s strategy is very much centered on high-flavor fruit. He said the series of “Candy” varieties allows for shipping at a very ripe stage, which gives the consumer a great taste experience.

More than 50 percent of the grapes grown by Grupo Alta, Divine Flavor’s parent and its growing entity, are made up of those newer, sweeter varieties. “Those varieties fit our business model,” he said. “They offer high flavor and a great eating experience.”

The varieties Divine Flavor grows are part of the company’s strategic plan of producing the best-flavored grapes for its customers at a specific time of the season. But they do not come without their risk. Bon said the company has experimented with many different varieties and have had some failures.

The key, however, is that they don’t ship their failures. If quality and taste don’t meet their expectations, they don’t wait for the retailer or consumer to let them know.

“We’ve earned the trust of our retail customers,” he said. “They trust our perception of quality and do take our grapes when we tell them they are ready.”

Throughout the season, Divine Flavor always has at least one “Candy” variety in its portfolio that its customers can utilize.

Michael DuPuis, quality assurance & public relations manager for Divine Flavor, said: “We see ourselves in the flavor industry. Our biggest asset is the experience we have at the farm level. It all starts with the growing of the crop.”

This year the company expects to have about 18 percent more volume than in 2022. “We continue to grow to keep up with demand and this year we do have a significant jump in volume,” DuPuis said.

As Divine Flavor peruses the table grape landscape, it believes the industry has found the next great green grape. “Autumn Crisp is the best green seedless grape on the planet,” Bon said.

For years, Thompson Seedless ruled the green category followed by Sugraone. The red category has presented a bigger challenge with no grape coming forward as the clear winner to replace the Flame Seedless.

“We think we have two potential Flame Seedless replacements,” Bon said. “We are bullish on a Sugra variety that is a red Autumn Crisp. We have another variety that also looks really good. There is no clear best red variety, but everyone is working on it.”

Bon added: “All the breeding programs are doing fantastic work. We haven’t planted a single vine of traditional old varieties in many years.”

While Divine Flavor touts its Jalisco volume and is happy to have an early jump on the Mexico grape season, it is not overly worried that others will follow suit.

“Jalisco is a very difficult area to grow grapes because of the topography and land ownership,” Bon said.

He added that Alan Aguirre  and the team are very passionate about what they do and are able to achieve success where others might fail.

“Mounting an operation in Jalisco the right way, in my opinion, is impossible without a passionate and persistent person like my uncle Alan,”  said Bon. “I’ve never met someone like him before who has so much dedication to what he does and the type of company he’s instilled at Grupo Alta and Divine Flavor. He’s a role model to each of us.”

Bon said his goal is to have three times the volume within the next three years.

Tim Linden

Tim Linden

About Tim Linden  |  email

Tim Linden grew up in a produce family as both his father and grandfather spent their business careers on the wholesale terminal markets in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Tim graduated from San Diego State University in 1974 with a degree in journalism. Shortly thereafter he began his career at The Packer where he stayed for eight years, leaving in 1983 to join Western Growers as editor of its monthly magazine. In 1986, Tim launched Champ Publishing as an agricultural publishing specialty company.

Today he is a contract publisher for several trade associations and writes extensively on all aspects of the produce business. He began writing for The Produce News in 1997, and currently wears the title of Editor at Large.

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November 28, 2023

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