Local family makes for apricot royalty

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While most of Santa Clara County might be the Valley of the Heart’s Delight, one San Benito County family believes the “flavor zone” for a rare kind of apricot is Hollister.
The Hollister-based Apricot King Orchards, owned by Gary Gonzales and his wife Patti Knoblich Gonzales, credits the area for the great flavor of the fruit they harvest. The business is one of many participating in the annual Downtown Hollister Certified Farmer’s Market, which runs from May through September.
Apricot King sells organically grown walnuts, almonds, pears, cherries and prunes but is famous for Blenheim apricots. The fruit has a skin so delicate it can’t be shipped and has a shelf life of three days, much like a raspberry or strawberry, said Knoblich Gonzales, 65.
“You’ll never find these ones in the store,” Knoblich Gonzales said. “Most are picked green and nasty.”
Selling at farmers markets is the family’s response to a changing business climate. About 25 years ago, 50 families farmed apricots in San Benito County, Knoblich Gonzales explained. Now, fewer than eight do, she said. At one point, the family had more than 300 acres of apricots, she said. They sold the fruit by the truckload to huge producers, such as Sunsweet. But in the early 90s, Turkish imports came in and offered $0.50 per pound when local farmers were getting $2 to $2.50 for the same amount, she said.
“One year, they told everyone in the county, ‘We’re taking none of yours,’” Knoblich Gonzales said.
The Apricot King business went from selling by the truckload to marketing half and one-pound bags, Knoblich Gonzales said. She and her husband sell at the markets along with their kids; relatives; and the girlfriends, boyfriends and college friends of their children, Knoblich Gonzales said.
“A lot of people ask if it’s local,” Knoblich Gonzales said. “I say, ‘Less than a mile away.’ ”
Knoblich Gonzales, a former teacher at Sunnyslope School, started bringing her children to the market when they were using coloring books, she said. As soon as they turned 16 years old, they would get their driver’s license and go to the markets, she said.
Knoblich Gonzales credits the work experience with teaching her children how to handle belligerent people, follow rules and count change.
“It’s taught them everything they ever wanted to know in life,” she said.
On a recent Wednesday, Knoblich Gonzales’ daughter-in-law, Brittany, 26, was running the market stand on San Benito Street. Brittany was the best friend of their youngest daughter but also had a crush their son, said Knoblich Gonzales. The two married 10 years later.
“She’d say, ‘He’s so handsome. I really like him,’” Knoblich Gonzales said.
Apricot King makes appearances at markets from Hollister to Chico, including at ones in Sunnyvale, Saratoga, Campbell, Mountain View, Palo Alto and Santa Cruz, Knoblich Gonzales said. Since Gary Gonzales and his parents grew up in Hollister, the family has a special spot in their hearts for the Hollister market.
“I like that it’s friendly,” said Knoblich Gonzales. “It’s good to do something in your hometown. It’s great for business.”

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