Not only is it the first time the Sundays River Valley company, whose main focus is citrus produce, have extended their interests to grape production, it is also the first table grapes to be planted at the estate.
Production manager at Le Grand Chasseur, Jan Rabie, said there would be a number of benefits in extending their operations to the Western Cape.
“We can provide employment all year round because of the grapes being harvested in summer. Most labour for citrus is required in winter,” he said.
“It also allows us to supply our markets with a bigger variety of products and to be a more competitive player. It helps us to diversify Habata’s risks.”
Besides the grapes operation, Le Grand Chasseur also has 60 hectares for citrus production.
Rabie said 27 hectares had been dedicated to the planting of the vines.
“The vines are pruned in winter to remove the excess wood and to help with the ‘fine-tuning’ of the vine’s shape,” he explained.
“The young vines are developed and shaped to fit the specific trellis system from October to the end of February.
“In spring the canes which have not borne any fruit are removed for better sunlight penetration, which also improves the fertility of the vine for the next season.”
Rabie said the damaged and misshaped grapes would be removed in late November to make sorting by the packers easier and to ensure a smooth packaging process.
He added that the harvesting would begin in the fourth week of the new year and continue until the 12th week.
The first harvest, he said, would be within 18 to 24 months after planting and, at optimal production, he anticipated a yield of up to 6 500 cartons weighing 4.5kg each.
Rabie said there were several factors which could prevent them from producing successful crops.
“Summer rain can cause rot, as well as fungal diseases,” he said. “What we really need are dry and warm summers, but not too hot, with enough irrigation water.
“Wet winters tend to lead to a good fruit set and higher yields.”
Besides summer rain, he added that droughts and labour shortages could also affect them in producing optimal crops.
Rabie said they required mostly human labour to harvest the grapes, with the numbers differing during the cultivation process.
“During the winter months only one to one and half people per hectare are needed, but during harvest preparation and harvesting we need at least two and half to three people per hectare.”
He said they dealt with Unifrutti in terms of distributing the grapes, which were earmarked for local consumption and export to the United Kingdom, Europe, Malaysia, Russia and the Middle and Far East.
“We are also hoping to export to China in the future.”