Last week, the California Table Grape Commission reported that an estimated 25 million boxes of California table grapes are lost due to Hurricane Hilary. The hurricane hit the state on Sunday, August 20th, in the midst of harvest season. “I believe this is a conservative estimate,” says Nick Dulcich with Pretty Lady Vineyards. “From what I see around here, I think it’s at least a 40 million-box loss, but it could be 50 million out of the initially projected harvest of 96.9 million boxes.”
He continues to say that the whole growing area has been hit with excessive rainfall. “That Sunday, it rained from 10:00 am in the morning until midnight and a key grape growing region like Maricopa took a lot of rain.” Altogether, two to three inches of rain fell in the heart of harvest season. “I can’t pick on at least 800 acres as they are gone. Just gone,” shared Dulcich.
Both red and green grape varieties have been severely affected by Hurricane Hilary.
Split and rotting grapes
The timing couldn’t have been worse. “We were right in between the early and mid-season varieties,” Dulcich shared. Sugar Drop, Sugraone, and Flame are early varieties and picking had been finished. However, the storm came right before the harvest of varieties like Krissy, Green Emerald, and Scarlet Royal. “They have been decimated as a result,” he commented. “The varieties that were close to harvest are seeing a lot of split grapes. From the later season varieties, many grapes have been rotting and yields will be reduced.” In the meantime, the market has jumped by $10/box.
Once every 40 years
A summer storm like this is very rare in California. “This amount of rainfall, it’s an event that probably happens once every 40 years. Once before, I remember we had excessive rain in summer. It was in 1977 and my dad had to use a squeegee to get the water out of the front yard. Since then, we haven’t seen this much rain in summer.” Even before the storm came in, Dulcich said this year’s climate was different from usual. “Every morning, I go outside to check the air and this season has been incredibly humid.” As a result of the heavy precipitation in California this past winter, lakes and reservoirs have been filled, creating humidity. “Grapes don’t do well with moisture as it causes mold and mildew.”
Is there anything that could have been done to prevent the impact of the rain? “In a normal season, we’ll start laying out plastic in every row in September,” commented Dulcich. That’s the time of year when rain could potentially be in the forecast. “If it is, we’ll open the plastic and cover the grapes. However, in the middle of summer, when it’s humid and 106°F, nobody thinks of putting out plastic.” On Tuesday, August 15, the storm was in the forecast for the first time. “Nobody knew what it was, and everybody was busy picking. In our minds, it was too early for plastic and before we knew it, we received 12-14 hours of non-stop rain.”
At the time of writing, the market is at $32.95/box. “From here, the market will only go up. In my opinion, the red market will be at $40/box in three weeks and will continue to go up until it explodes in about a month.” Dulcich expects the green grape market to be at $40/box by late October. “There will be a grape shortage this season, 100 percent.” Despite the limited volumes and high prices, Pretty Lady Vineyards is still honoring some ads. “We try to show retailers that we are their partners.”