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Table grapes shine in Robertson

Habata Agri's new venture into table grape production at Le Grand Chasseur in Robertson has been rewarded with a superb harvest, despite a number of challenges.

After intensive research into the best variety to cultivate in their region, table grapes operations manager Francois Viljoen said they had opted for Crimson Seedless as their first choice.

Crimson is a red seedless variety with an elongated firm berry that provides a nice crunchy eating experience.

"It is fairly rain resistant, making it ideal to use in our conditions and we covered 27 hectares in our first year," he said.

Viljoen acknowledged that the variety could be fairly unpredictable in the first year of production.

"What happens in the first year is that the bunches on the vines are fairly tight together," he explained.

"But as the vines grow older the bunches naturally become more loose and production picks up drastically.

"Having been blessed this year with a wonderful crop that is healthy, our production figures are looking promising."

As with anything new, Viljoen said they understood that there would always be challenges.

"Our staff had to make the mental break away from dealing with wine grapes and get into ‘table grape mode'," he said.

"With the lessons learnt from our first crop we will strive to continually improve the knowledge off our staff to further increase the yield and quality of our grapes."

As the Western Cape reels under a catastrophic drought, Viljoen said it had impacted on them a great deal, with their water allocation being cut almost in half.

"However, with soil moisture probes and carefully calculated irrigation times, it was possible to have a good quality crop without an effect on our yield," he said.
With the international market spoilt by having grapes the whole year, Viljoen said the focus was on developing a quality fruit.

"There is a high demand for exceptional quality grapes from growers who can produce that annually.

"We try to pack as much as possible for the overseas markets and the rest goes to local consumption."

Having successfully negotiated their initial venture into table grapes, he said they planned to add a number of new varieties to see "what we can offer the market in terms of different colour".

Viljoen said grapes were harvested early in the morning according to sugar and colour demand of the certain market.

"The fruit is then transported to the pack house where it's cleaned of all irregular, rotten and under-coloured berries.

"It's then sized and packed according to market specifications.

"The pallets are put into a forced cooling room where hot air is sucked from the pallets to a temperature of -0.5C. The sugar content in the berry prevents it from freezing and cracking.

"Pallets are then put into a container and shipped off to markets all around the world."



Habata Agri harvested their first crop of table grapes this month at their Le Grand Chasseur operations in Robertson in the Western Cape. Photo: Supplied

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