An explosion of limited edition grape varieties the key for sales

The explosion of grape varieties has been and continues to be one of the top stories coming out of the California grape deal. Gone are the days when just a few public varieties dominate and virtually every grower and shipper has them.

Growers and retailers alike are looking for limited edition varieties and Columbine Vineyards in Delano, CA, is a full participant in that game. “We have a few proprietary varieties right now but we have several in [research and development] that we are very excited about,” said Keith Andrew, sales manager for the firm. “We have seven or eight that we are evaluating this year and will probably winnow that down to three or four that we will begin planting commercially next year.”

Utilizing grafting technique on existing vines and new plantings, Andrew said these new varieties will start producing a commercial crop two to four years after that. He noted that the seven to eight varieties entering this final evaluation phase have also survived previous cuts from a much larger varietal pool. “Only the best of the best survive. We have some exciting varieties out there but that’s all I will say at this point. We haven’t named any of them yet.”

On its current proprietary list are Milano, Black Globe and Holiday. Andrew said Milano is a green seedless variety that should be in good production in August. He said it is characterized by its very large fruit and crisp and crunchy texture.

The Black Globe is more of an export grape as it is a seeded variety and is experiencing good acceptance in Asia. The Holiday variety is a large red grape that is harvested in the September to December time frame, hence the name.

Andrew said the newest wrinkle at Columbine is several new people involved in sales and support. Coincidentally, the company had some turnover this year and is introducing four new people in that department: Michael Hatcher, Erasmo Marin, Oliver Sill and Alexandra Cody.

Claire Caratan, the fourth generation of Caratans involved in the family firm, handles marketing and social media for the longtime grower-shipper. She said the company has a robust social media existence with interactions via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as well as posting more than 100 videos on its own YouTube channel. Caratan admits to convincing her father, Columbine President Martin Caratan, that social media is important after she graduated from college four years ago. The program began slowly but now has many different facets, with a focus on the end user of their products, especially millennials.

Recently, the social media department began making recipe videos under the moniker CoVi Kitchen to go along with more company-centric postings that feature farming activities.

Caratan said that it is difficult to gauge the success of such a program especially with a seasonal crop like California grapes. She said that postings via the various social media sites continue throughout the year, even in the January to June time frame when Columbine is not harvesting its own grapes. “At that point we are just keeping our name out there and continuing to encourage increased consumption,” she said.

Columbine Vineyards is a dba of M. Caratan Inc., which was founded in 1926 by Claire’s great grandfather, Marin Caratan. Her grandfather, Luis Caratan, and his brother, Mila Caratan, greatly expanded the operation in the second half of the 20th century. And, as mentioned earlier, Martin Caratan, son of Luis, is the current chief executive.