grape juice processing
Grapes arrive at Delano Growers for processing (Photo: Valley Ag Voice)

By Valley Ag Voice Staff

In agriculture, there is a can-do spirit and a mentality that is always innovating to deliver food and forage to consumers’ rising appetites. Delano Growers Grape Products is an example of an innovate leader in the agriculture space that is quietly and effectively part of delivering grape concentrate to the marketplace. 

Since 1940, Delano Growers has been operating on Basset Road in North Kern County. It was originally formed as the Delano Growers Cooperative Winery. Many local farmers in the Delano area gathered together to form the co-op and they produced wine and high proof alcohol until the 1980s. 

Must tanks containing grape juice (Photo: Valley Ag Voice)

After 1980, Delano Growers started producing white juice concentrate. The concentrate goes into juices of all kinds; wineries use it to add sugar to wine and food processors use it for a glaze on items like pies. It’s fair to say that Kern County grapes are juicing up many consumer products. 

Standing on Bassett Road you can see many trucks entering and leaving the facility. When growers have excess table grapes, they come to Delano Growers, where they also accept naturals or grapes that were machine harvested. All grapes are tested for sugar content and visually inspected to ensure the highest quality before the truck is allowed to proceed to unload their delivery.

Sprawling out over 10 acres, you can’t help but be impressed by the sheer volume of technology and innovation that goes into the instruments and machinery at Delano Growers. As grapes arrive and are loaded into the hooper, they immediately begin their journey through the complex stages of the plant. Daniel Lord, the plant manager, shared, “This plant is a typical Kern County story. Behind the fields and the agriculture exterior of Kern County, you find amazing industrial innovation that makes processing grape concentrate possible.”

The process takes the grapes from the hopper to the de-stemmer and crusher. The stems and skins are separated and used in products like animal feed. The juice travels to one of five “must” tanks where the skins float to the top of the tanks and then get run over drag screens to further separate the skins from the juice. Then the left-over skins or pomace is pressed up to 5 additional times to get every ounce of juice. 

“Our busy season runs from August to December,” added Lord. “Grape trucks will be coming in pretty regularly to deliver grapes to our facility.”

Photo: Valley Ag Voice

They make a rough concentrate to preserve it throughout the year and pull the water out with evaporators and store pure sugar juice. Concentrate is then stored in tanks until its ready for reprocessing where later water is added to restore the concentrate to juice.

Witnessing the process by which the concentrate is turned into juice is truly amazing. Whether it’s the electro dialysis machine or the bipolar electro dialysis processing equipment great care is taken to ensure the juice quality meets the end users’ specifications. Many samples can be found in the onsite lab to ensure the product quality is checked all throughout the production process. “We want to make sure every batch meets our standards,” commented Daniel Lord. “We ensure that each batch is processed and stored correctly.”

The juice then goes into the cellar and is stored as cool as possible to prevent fermentation. The juice is then stored in 22 tanks to keep each 20,000-gallon batch cool in the cellar. The shelf life of the grape can last 6 months to year where it is then shipped out to one of Delano Growers many customers. 

Just as we witnessed trucks coming in, trucks can be seen leaving with the finished product in bulk containers, 300-gallon totes, or 50-gallon drums. Each step of the way, Delano Growers is creating grape juice that will be used to feed the appetites of many consumers. Clearly, this co-op is a Kern County story where people like Daniel Lord and the facility employees put joy in making their juice.

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