Habata Agri, well-known for their citrus crops in the Eastern Cape, have an equally important operation in the Western Cape that adds much-needed diversity to their considerable basket of products.
Next year, the Le Grand Chasseur Wine Estate near Robertson, which forms part of the Habata farming company, will add table grapes to their consumer menu for the first time.
This follows their wine production and adds another string to their bow as they strive to broaden their appeal to local and overseas markets.
There may not seem much difference between one grape and the next for the layman, but Habata table grape manager Francois Viljoen pointed out the significant differences between wine and table grapes.
“Table grapes are grown to be more appealing than their wine cousins,” he said.
“They typically have a thinner skin, bigger berry size and can be seedless with thicker pulp to give them a nice ‘pop’ when biting the berry.
“Sugars are lower and acid less to give them better shelf life, especially for the long transport periods to international markets.”
He said wine grapes had smaller berries, with more concentrated juice to create the “lovely complexity of wines”.
Grapes without pips are fast becoming more popular among consumers and Habata currently have the Crimson Seedless variety under cultivation.
“We have plans to introduce a few more exciting varieties next year and, due to market demand, only seedless varieties will be planted in the near future,” said Viljoen.
Habata planted their first table grapes in spring last year and, as these are harvested in summer, it will be at least 18 months before the first fruit is picked.
“We have 27 hectares under cultivation at the moment with 50 hectares to be planted in 2018,” he said.
“Table grapes are usually measured in 4.5kg cartons and we will be looking for 1 500 cartons per hectare at the minimum for our first harvest season next year. That will equate to 168 tonnes.”
He said the best conditions for growing table grapes were cold, wet winters, with a dry spring and summer to yield the best colour, size and sweetest grapes.
“All grapes will be cultivated under nets for optimum yield, as well as protection against wind,” said Viljoen.
“We use drip irrigation and soil moisture probes for irrigation scheduling and for optimum water utilisation and conservation.”
He added that their table grapes were distributed to international markets, with the majority of the produce going to Europe and the United Kingdom.