Around two years ago when Fredo was writing the history of the South African Table Grape Industry – 125 Years of Excellence – he dealt with two products of the vine which is so often confused by consumers. People often think grapes are grapes. Whether we eat fresh, or consume grapes around our braai fires, they are the same.
Well, they are not. The grapes we eat are of entirely different varieties, grown by entirely different techniques – from that of wine grapes.
In 125 Years of Excellence, Fredo explained it as follows.
“There are two products of the vine that inspire people. One is almost as old as civilisation itself – over centuries part and parcel of the way people across the world live and celebrate. The other has a younger, more vibrant character, and is a pleasure to the eye, refreshing and tasty to the palate.”
Fredo explained that the older product of the vine usually comes out of a bottle, is considered to be romantic, perhaps more glamorous, but needs fermentation and often aging to exist.
The young one ripens in the vineyard to its very best, is crispy and fresh when picked and packed, and shipped to consumers around the world. It is enjoyed within a relatively short time, within eight weeks of being harvested at the most. By then it still needs to be as fresh as the day it was picked.
Nothing is kept for next year
Each year, there is a new harvest and nothing is kept for next year. Novices who travel through the South African vine growing regions, particularly the Western Cape, will note two kinds of landscapes. Those of the vineyards where wine grapes are grown, standing in neat rows which stretch over hills and through valleys, and then the table grape landscapes.
In the table grape growing season, all you see is a green table of leaves. When looking closer in the vineyard, you will see that this table is created by canopies. Underneath, you find thousands of neatly and more or less evenly formed table grape bunches. They hang side by side, looks almost identical and show the promise of the harvest that is soon to come.
When harvested, this delicious fruit emerges from beneath the green ‘table’ to be proudly served as ‘table grapes’ on dining tables in South Africa and across the globe.
These are the table grapes grown on farms throughout South Africa. It is the fruit of the labour of a huge, sophisticated industry, steeped in history, but fully ready and geared to meet the challenges of the future.
Behind these table grapes, there is the story of a whole community of people, which links farms to ports and overseas markets, as well as marketers to customers and consumers across the world.
Our table grapes bring nuances of colour, from white, pink and red, to black, underlining the fresh and crispy taste experiences! The white grapes evoke comments such as ‘crispy new season’, to ‘a fleshy, melting taste’, and ‘slightly more distinctive muscat flavours’.
The reds, in the early season, are ‘crispy, bursting or exploding in the mouth’. ‘Sweet and wonderful flavours’ are used to describe other reds, while the black grapes are often said to be ‘juicy, full of favour and crispy’.
The berries are mostly elongated or round. In the white and red varieties one can almost see the juiciness through the skin. The vines yielding grapes for making wine, on the other hand, are almost ageless, with one hardly ever coming across new cultivars. The art lies in the ability of winemakers to take the best that nature offers and to slowly mature it till it offers a most pleasing drinking experience.
The table grape vines are constantly changing, through innovative breeding and selection, to continue to meet the ever-increasing demand by table grape lovers for new tastes and eating experiences.
Young, exciting and inviting – names such as Sweet Celebration, Starlight, Melody, Ivory, Tawny, Crimson, Midnight Beauty, Allison and Joybells, to name but a few. They are the table grapes for the new generations, all of them seedless.
Each year, the table grape bunches grown in our vineyards – more than 500 million of them every season – are the ambassadors of the South African table grape industry. They are send across oceans to the world. They have established themselves and the industry among the world leaders in table grape production.