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The Rubens apple is harvested in early September, after Gala, and turns a vivid orange-red with red stripes. It has a good balance of sweetness and acidity, which should give it wide appeal, the variety owners say.

Rubens (variety name Civni) was developed by the Consorzio Italiano Vivaisti in Ferrara, Italy, and released in Europe in 2000. It is grown in northern Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Austria, and the United Kingdom. European production this year was estimated at 7,000 tons. The long-term production target is 20,000 to 50,000 tons.

The first test trees of Rubens planted in Washington State are in their fifth leaf and starting to produce a significant amount of fruit for evaluation.

North America

Alessio Martinelli, CIV’s research director, was in Washington State during harvest this year to see how the apple performs. Rubens is being commercialized in North America by members of the International New Variety Network (INN). Test trees have been planted in an INN test block in Orondo and in an orchard owned by INN member Van Well Nursery in East Wenatchee. There are also second-leaf trees in commercial blocks.

Around 270 cases of Rubens grown in Chile were used for consumer preference tests in Seattle, Detroit, and New York earlier this year and for sensory evaluation at Washington State University.

Jack Snyder, president of C & O Nursery, Wenatchee, said that in all instances the retailers reported strong sales and good feedback, and wanted to sell the variety again. In taste tests at WSU, consumers ranked Rubens either first or second in comparisons with other varieties.

The North American licensees, Chelan Fruit Cooperative and Columbia Fruit Packers and their marketers, had fruit on display at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit in Anaheim, California, in October. About 50 bins (1,000 boxes) of Washington-grown Rubens will be used for test marketing in Detroit and New York this season.

Reggie Collins, chief executive officer of Chelan Fruit, said seven members of the cooperative, with orchards at different elevations, have each planted two to three acres of Rubens to find out where it grows best. The company has formed a variety committee composed of growers, marketers, and management to discuss how to proceed with it.

"Our growers are totally involved from the field to the customer," he said.

Europe

CIV has licensed 11 European distributors to grow and market Rubens, Martinelli said. A consortium of those distributors works with CIV to coordinate the production and marketing and ensure that a consistent product reaches the market in terms of both the fruit and the packaging. Top-quality fruit is sold under the trademark Rubens, while lower-grade fruit (that doesn’t meet the color requirements, for example) is either sold under the Civni name or used for processing.

The Rubens brand name is important in helping consumers identify the apple, Martinelli said. "For us, it’s very important to give the right identity and to give a consistent product," he said. "The idea is to have worldwide recognition of the Rubens brand as an outstanding quality variety."

Collins said Chelan Fruit would work closely with Columbia Fruit Packers to develop grade standards for Rubens grown in North America.

Members of INN are: C & O Nursery, Willow Drive Nursery, and Van Well Nursery in Washington State; ProTree Nurseries in California; Davodeau Ligonniere, Mondial Fruit Selection, and Castang Group in France; CIV in Italy; A.M.A. in Chile; Stargrow in South Africa; and Graham’s Factree and Waimea Nurseries in Australia.

For more information, check the Web site www.nurserynet.com.