New raisin grape could change industry

PARLIER, Calif. (KFSN) -- Not only are raisins very popular, they're also very labor intensive but a new grape variety could lead to a raisin revolution.

US Department of Agriculture research geneticist Craig Ledbetter explained, "Everybody wants to see it." Sunpreme grapes which have drying on the vine represent a new wrinkle in the raisin industry.

Ledbetter believed the new variety could be a game-changer. He said, "It seems to be. It's going to really reduce the amount of labor needed to produce the raisin crop."

27 vines were growing at USDA Research Center in Parlier. Ledbetter said, "With the fact that it's dried on the vine we have some nice vertical and fine wrinkling as compared to tray dried raisins."

Traditionally Thompson seedless grapes have been laid on paper trays to dry for two weeks. But now over half the raisin crop is mechanically harvested. The DOV technique currently involves workers cutting canes and then waiting up to six weeks for the raisins to form. But the Sunpreme grape doesn't even need the hot sun. Ledbetter said, "When they get about 22% sugar they just begin to wilt naturally. You see creases in the berries."

Growers have come from as far away as Australia to see this odd sight. Ledbetter said, "I've heard a lot of "wows" at the very start. The fact that the plant is green still and growing, the canes weren't severed and people are amazed at why there raisins growing there."

The Sunpreme vines were expected to be available to growers by 2017.
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