New Divine Flavor Jalisco vineyard exceeds highest expectations
In the months leading up to the harvest at Divine Flavor’s new vineyards in Jalisco, Mexico, the company had reserved expectations for the facility’s first year table grape production.
As the harvest began late March, the results for its first year commercial crop have surpassed expectations, according Carlos Bon Jr., sales manager of Divine Flavor LLC, adding that the flavor and quality on every variety of Divine Flavor’s Jalisco table grapes is phenomenal.
The company anticipated shipping from Jalisco would begin in early April, but this year, the first harvest began on March 27. With a sample of just one season, Bon considered this first shipping date to be a “fluke” of a production year.
Nonetheless, “we are pleased to start that early,” Bon said.
“We went into the months leading to Jalisco with conservative expectations. But in the last two weeks, we have been amazed. We’re very pleased to see quality like what we produce in Grupo Alta vineyards in Sonora. These are like mature vines in quality now.” The Jalisco farm will reach its peak volume in mid-April.
Located in Nogales, Divine Flavor is the marketing arm for Grupo Alta, headquartered in Hermosillo, Sonora and a major grower of Mexican grapes and vegetables.
Grupo Alta is producing specialty grape varieties in Jalisco “and we’re really pleased with the results,” said Bon. Jelly Berry, Cotton Candy and Gummyberry are the primary specialty varieties there.
Divine Flavor has received “so much positive consumer feedback on the exceptional high flavor for its special grape varieties,” Bon added. “We’re very proud of this accomplishment as we were one of the first to plant these high-flavored and proprietary varieties.”
Grupo Alta timed Jalisco production to wind down in early May, when the firm’s Sonoran production ramps up.
“We hope not to repeat last season in Sonora,” said Bon, “when the deal started late.” The Mexican grape market was rarely on good footing in 2019 and that late start is not expected in 2020.
Of the Mexican grape industry’s March 19 formal crop estimate, showing volume of less than 20 million boxes, which is down four million from a year ago, Bon said most of the decreased volumes will come from the front end of the season. For the industry at large, he expected both early green varieties and early Flames will be down from 2019 but later in the season will come on as normal.
A week after the Mexican industry predicted Mexican grapes would be early this year, Bon noted that a subsequent week of cool, cloudy weather put the brakes on Sonoran grape maturity. “It’s been a very strange March. It was warming in early March, until the trend went in the other direct late in the month,” he said.
He expected to see volume from Sonora by the third week of May.
Last year at its Pesqueria, Sonora, ranch, Grupo Alta built a new, state-of-the-art packinghouse. So, again in this second season in the facility, the firm anticipated greater efficiency allowing faster throughput.
Bon noted that Divine Flavor has become a 12-month grape supplier, giving growing-partners in Chile and Peru. The firm also has a new vineyard near Ensenada, Baja. The Baja operation brings varieties and company philosophy that are very much in line with the new Jalisco farm and predecessors in Sonora. The difference, of course, is timing. Grupo Alta’s Baja grapes will be shipped in July.
Bon said grape volume from Peru ended several weeks ago. “Chile’s in peak production now. We expect that to compliment with Jalisco. We hope that will last until mid- or the end of April,” he added.
Divine Flavor is increasing organic production of all its commodities, but the company also offers conventionally produced fruits and vegetables.
Michael DuPuis, Divine Flavor’s quality assurance and public relations coordinator, said that, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Divine Flavor and its ranches have made extra precautions throughout operations to assure sanitation to protect employees and customers. In the Nogales sales headquarters, sales and administration personnel are working from home to avoid the potential spread of COVID-19.
“The safety and well-being of all of our staff and grower community will always be a top priority,” DuPuis said. “We are committed to doing our part to combat this together as a community.”
José Antonio Martínez, Divine Flavor’s COO, indicted that the company was well-prepared for new Mexican tomato import inspections, which are required by the Tomato Suspension Agreement.
Martínez said the firm has added employees to handle the new workload created by the recently imposed regulations.
“Divine Flavor has the knowledge and experience to deal with high-volume tomato inspections, because of what we’ve done with grape inspections for several years.
“This is a challenge but it’s an opportunity to learn what we need to do. The industry as a whole will need to be very well coordinated. We have a brand new facility here in Nogales, so we have the infrastructure to deal with this,” Martínez said.
Photo: Alvaro Munoz, the Divine Flavor/Grupo Alta quality control manager in Jalisco, Mexico.