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Turning the Tables: Anthony Vineyards' Grape Growing Revolution

From a small plot in Bakersfield, California, and four brothers’ efforts to honor their father’s legacy, to an expansive 9,000-acre operation targeting conventional and organic produce, Anthony Vineyards has always stood at the forefront of an ever-changing industry. And with new partnerships and premium specialty grape varieties, the company is pushing relentlessly forward…

The table grape industry is changing. A cursory glance at your neighborhood produce department will tell you as much. Where once a simple three-color assortment was the standard, consumer demand for new and novel eating experiences and robust variety development programs aimed at anticipating those demands have transformed both the in-store experience and grape-growing landscape.

John Harley, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Anthony Vineyards“Ten years ago there were only a few varieties for each color—a black grape, which was maybe a Summer Royal or Autumn Royal; a green grape, which was a Sugraone, a Thompson, or a Perlette; and a red, which was a Flame Seedless—and eventually we had Crimson Seedless and Scarlet Royal,” explains John Harley, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Anthony Vineyards.

As a veteran of the grape industry and an indispensable part of the Bakersfield, California-based vertically-integrated grape grower and shipper, John has seen the industry transition from its tricolor roots to its current state. And, throughout that entire process, Anthony Vineyards has been at the forefront of grape production and marketing, anticipating trends and transforming through the company’s relentlessly innovative acumen for all things grapes.

“Now, there are 20 different varieties of each color, and it’s hard to determine which are the best varieties to get into,” says John, noting that, beyond new conventional and organic red, green, and black offerings, an influx of grape varieties that don’t fit squarely into this traditionally tripartite scheme is creating chaos among the color blocks.

“We’re seeing the onslaught of what we now consider niche varieties, which are focused more on flavor profile than, say, the size of the fruit or bunch size or color—or being seedless versus non-seedless,” John continues. But where others might see turmoil in the profusion of new grape varieties, John and the Anthony Vineyards team see opportunity.

“We’ve done a lot in the way of expanding in terms of facilities and in the way of expanding our varieties. For the first time in our history, we’ve partnered with outside growers that have the same values and a portfolio that complements our own as far as grape varieties are concerned,” notes John.

In conjunction with its partners, Anthony Vineyards is forging ahead, embracing these new niche varieties to better meet its customers’ evolving needs and end consumers’ demand for novel premium grape varieties. Because, while niche now, these premium varieties seem to suggest a sea-change, and Anthony Vineyards has always been one to ride at the vanguard of the grape industry.

Four Brothers

Some stories in our industry are like fables. Not neat diagrammatic fables. Fables brimming with implication, rife with the weight of history—of trials and tribulations—and resounding with triumph.

Following the death of a family patriarch—an émigré who rose to become “Juice Grape King” in a new land—four brothers convene on a small parcel of land—160 acres some 6,000 miles from their father’s birthplace—and establish what will become their lives’ work—their legacy—their vineyard. Armed with an expansiveness of spirit, a revolutionary approach, and an unsurpassed ardor for their craft—the cultivation and sale of grapes—these brothers would go on to grow their operation into a table grape growing empire.

Domenick “Cookie” Bianco (left) and Robert “Bobby” Bianco (right), Co-Founders of Anthony Vineyards

An Expansive Future

Those four brothers were the founders of Anthony Vineyards; their father was the company’s namesake Anthony A. Bianco, and the story took place some 50 years ago in Bakersfield, California.

Today, Anthony Vineyards operates on more than 9,000 acres, with Co-Founders Domenick "Cookie" Bianco and Robert "Bobby" Bianco continuing to oversee day-to-day operations.

And the company is continuing to expand. Having shifted its focus to meet the shifting demands of customers and consumers, John tells me, Anthony Vineyards remains at the forefront of the industry. And its latest partnerships—working with like-minded grape growers in order to grow its operation and further establish Anthony Vineyards in the organic and premium specialty grape space—are one indicator of the company’s ability to constantly evolve and meet a changeable industry’s needs.

“Anthony Vineyards has progressed through this whole transformation of the grape industry. Right now, the company is a conventional and organic grape shipper and producer. We’re continuing to develop the organic side of our business. In fact, more than 50 percent of our production is now organic,” says John. “Prior to three years ago, we grew 100 percent of the grapes that we marketed. Now we have these associations with like-minded grape growers which complement our production and will help us move forward in the California—and possibly the international—grape production and marketing businesses. If these niche varieties are successful in our domestic season—California season—we would like to import them and have them available to our customers year-round. And by importing them, we are not bound by U.S. marketing laws. So we could offer all of the high-flavor profile grapes that are in production all over the world.”

We’re seeing the onslaught of what we now consider niche varieties, which are focused more on flavor profile than, say, the size of the fruit or bunch size or color—or being seedless versus non-seedless.

- John Harley, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Anthony Vineyards

Meanwhile, recent partnerships have also allowed Anthony Vineyards to redirect its focus to new niche varieties in partnership with the Fabbri Group and IFG.

“The Fabbri Group are growers of IFG Varieties such as Candy Dreams™, Candy Hearts™, and Sweet Sapphire® varieties,” John explains, noting that alongside new varieties, Anthony Vineyards will be introducing a new label. “Candy Hearts, Candy Dreams, and Sweet Sapphire, as well as the Sweet Globe® will be available in our new Bright Vines label, as well as our Anthony Vineyards labels, this coming season. We’re working on the marketing, labeling, and merchandising of these niche products. We’re going to implement a new label that is going to represent those volumes for us—those specialty volumes that have very specific taste profiles.”

So with new partnerships in place to source conventional grapes and new partnerships in place to grow and develop niche varieties, Anthony Vineyards is primed to tackle the shifting challenges of a mercurial grape industry.

“It gives us the opportunity to develop that third category,” John adds. “I think that’s the biggest change in direction that Anthony Vineyards has gone through in the last 25 years. Basically, what this transformation has done is force us to look at alternatives. Something that we realized we cannot do is do it all successfully—be a production company, a marketer, be involved in all these different growing regions, and all these new varieties. All at the same time! You can’t be a master of all things!”

And while all these things may not be achievable in house, so to speak, through partnerships and shrewd maneuvering, Anthony Vineyards is proving that much can still be accomplished.

With a storied past behind the company and an eye attuned to the shifting landscape of grape growing, the company has stood the test of time and become both giant and journeyman—standard bearer and nimble innovator. The future is bright for Anthony Vineyards.