Senior table grape growers will tell you that if you really want to see how good your table grape crop is, you need to stand in the vineyard, bend forward and look backwards between your legs.
They way one should look at the grapes in the vineyard crossed Fredo’s mind when this week he visited the farm of Leon Viljoen in the Hex River Valley. Leon is an experienced grower and member of the Hex’s well-known Viljoen family. They are the descendants of the first French Huguenot Francois Villion to arrive at the Cape.
[divider]Fredo’s visit to Leon’s farm was, however, not to talk about the early history. With most of the new table grape varieties ripe on the vineyards and ready to be picked, Fredo wanted to get some special pictures in the vineyards. The visit to Leon was also incidental and not originally planned. Fredo had ear-marked the morning to visit Anthony Hill, at Buffelskraal, where he was harvesting Joybells. This is a new variety of which much is expected – especially because it is a truly new South African table grape variety, bred by Phyllis Burger at the ARC’s Nietvoorbij Centre in Stellenbosch.
So excited is the grape industry body SATI about Joybells, that tomorrow evening they will be launching it to the world at the popular international produce show, Fruit Logistica, in Berlin. One can understand their excitement, because the state funded South African breeding programme has not delivered anything like this variety for some time.
So as a loyal citizen Fredo is cheering for Joybells – may it ring successfully for years to come!
[divider]At Buffelskraal Anthony Hill told Fredo ‘everyone wants ten minutes of my time,’ signalling that the visit would be short. So, apart from the fact that Fredo quickly looked at the beautiful pack house where the Joybells were being packed, and admired the homestead and out buildings on one the Hex River Valley’s oldest farms, the visit to the vineyard was brief. A quick photo or two of Anthony posing with Joybells, and the time was up – Anthony was off!
Fredo stayed a bit longer in the vineyard and stopped two tractors and trailers laden with Joybells to take some pictures. Then he headed back down the valley.
On the spur of the moment he turned off at Leon Viljoen’s farm, Die Vlei. At the office he asked to see Leon, but found Gabriél Viljoen, son of Leon and one of the next generation of Viljoen table grape growers. Gabriél was very interested in Fredo’s project to write a coffee table book on the history of table grapes in South Africa.
He told Fredo about his own research and the old documents and photographs he collected. “Where have you been all the time,” Fredo asked. (A previous visit to Leon did not bring forth much of a historical nature). Fredo and Gabriél started talking and not even a message from Leon that Fredo must meet him at his house could end the discussion. In the end, Leon came to Fredo, and from there the three of us proceeded to the vineyards.
[divider]There we learnt about Leon’s involvement with another range of new generation table grape varieties which are making waves in the South African industry. Leon has a strong relationship Dr Davin Cain, breeder of the IFG varieties in the USA and has been a leading force in testing them in South Africa.
Now we spent time in two vineyards with these varieties, one of them Sweet Globe, a white seedless grape that was named the best block in the Hex this year. Next to it there was Sweet Sapphire, a unique black seedless, where Fredo looked at the grapes, backwards, between his legs, as the senior growers prescribed. What a magical experience, with rows and rows of vines showing their harvest, with the long berries on long bunches stretching away in the shade provided by the green canopy of leaves. It was almost surreal, like we were in the Cathedral of Nature and that we were sitting amongst the abundance and goodness that only nature can offer.
What a treat is awaiting consumers when these grapes appear on the shelves – sweet, crispy and full of juice – the vines have delivered what they had promised!