Sundale Vineyards still on a growth curve
Sundale Vineyards, which is one of the larger table grape growers in Tulare County, located in the middle of California’s San Joaquin Valley, expects to see a 10 percent increase in production this summer following last year’s 15 percent gain.
Sean Stockton, president of the company’s sales arm, Tulare, CA-based Sundale Sales, said the growing operation began converting most of its acreage to the newer varieties several years ago with those new vines still coming into full production. The newer varieties have the advantage of being more flavorful and also much more prolific yielders. Hence, the company’s production is increasing as those vines mature.
Stockton touted some of the company’s newer varieties where it will see production gains this year, but at the same time he noted that the cultural department is constantly looking at more newer varieties. He said there are some experimental vineyards with rows of new varieties being tested to see how they do in their specific microclimate.
While Sundale will have many of the new varieties this year in greater volume, Stockton said he is particularly excited about the increased volume of Ivory, Chrissy and Timco. Combined with its Autumn King production, he said Sundale will be a solid supplier of fresh table grapes through December. The company’s volume tends to increase as the season wears on.
Sundale prides itself on being a consistent supplier as it has developed a robust “house pack” program, which gives it greater control over its volume as well as increased production with a longer work day.
Stockton explained that the company does pack grapes in the field like other packers, but it also utilizes a tote bag harvesting strategy, which allows it to bring grapes into their facilities and continue packing even as the day heats up. San Joaquin Valley is known for its summer heat with temperatures climbing above 100 degrees for days and even weeks in a row. Consequently, the work day starts early with many growers beginning their production even as it is still dark outside. The heat often requires an end to field packing before noon. That’s when Sundale has an advantage as it moves its packing crew indoors and continues the operation.
The indoor operation also allows the grower-packer to offer special packs such as bi-color and tri-color consumer packs. That’s impossible to do in the field but is a natural for a house pack schematic.
Stockton said the quest for a good variety to replace the Flame Seedless is an ongoing search. Most of the Flame Seedless acreage has been in the ground for many years with the expected decrease in yield that comes with age curbing total volume. Sundale does have some newer flame Seedless vineyards, which has allowed it to keep up its volume of the popular variety until a better one comes along.
Examining some of the issues of the day, Stockton said rising water costs, a shrinking labor force and climbing truck rates, which are at all time highs, are creating challenges for this season. He added that the price of lumber has also skyrocketed more than doubling the cost of a pallet. Nonetheless, he is optimistic about the 2021 California summer grape deal. In early July, he said most retailers on his sell list are excited about the start of the California summer deal after slogging through uneven spring production. “We are expecting a lot of retail promotions all summer long and into the fall,” he said, repeating that Sundale will have fruit until the sun sets on 2021.