The ABC of Grapes
Few people know it, but the grapes used to make wine are very different from the ones we eat during the Christmas Holiday and New Year. Although both belong to the genus Vittis vinifera L., the production methods and the output are quite different.
Table grapes vines are handled to produce a large amount of kilograms per hectare, they produce large, crispy and sweet grapes. However, because they are larger table grapes have a weaker skin, more susceptible to different types of damage, both mechanical and natural (pests and diseases). Other characteristics that differentiate them from wine grapes are that most are seedless, they come in various shapes and colors which are sold in different parts of the world.
On the other hand, wine grape plants are managed to achieve a higher concentration of flavors and aromas. The grower tries to achieve a balance between the volume produced and its organoleptic characteristics – i.e., qualities associated to taste, color, and feel. These characteristics are closely linked to the place where the grapes are produced; which is the reason why, today, there are specific valleys for red and white wines. The quest for the perfect balance forces growers to produce less kilograms per hectare, of this smaller grape full of flavor and aromas. However this smaller grape, has a thicker skin, making it more resistant to any type of damage. Another characteristic of wine grapes is that they all have seeds.
In addition to the distinctions in shape, sizes, and colors; their commercialization also differs. The table grape can be shipped to faraway places, they are high quality which enables them to withstand long trips – more than three weeks.
Another interesting difference is that the table grape production is completely manual, from the budding of the plants to the harvest, machinery is only use for the phytosanitary treatments which international traded grapes have to meet. Meanwhile, when it comes to grape for wine the manual tasks are few, and the process is mostly mechanical – although grapes for the finest wines are often times manually harvested.
The fact is that, whether in a bunch served at breakfast or as a tasty glass of wine in a fine restaurant, grapes no longer know borders. And Chile, located in the extreme south of the Americas, is the number one exporter of the fruit.
Chilean wines are widely known for their quality, but what is less known is that Chileans have also become experts in the production of table grapes. The country wine industry has over 140 thousand hectares, and exports 870 million liters or US$ 1,800 million dollars – placing the country in eighth place in the world ranking of wine production. On the other hand, with only 48 thousand hectares, the country is the main exporter of table grapes in the world, with an average of 90 million boxes per year which represents around US$ 1,500 million dollars.
The commonly produced varieties of table grapes in the country are those without seeds, such as Thompson Seedless, Crimson Seedless and Flame Seedless. The production is mainly exported to the United States, followed by Asia and Europe, although a small portion is also commercialized with the neighboring countries in Latin America.
What makes a relatively small country, barely over 750 thousand square kilometers long, such a big player in the table grape and wine markets? The favorable soil and climate conditions are important, but the technical expertise is what really makes the country stand out. Chilean producers have learnt a lot over the years, and along their side Bayer experts are walking the vineyards helping develop solutions for their specific needs.
The Chilean producer trades in a very competitive market, driven by consumers’ increasing quality demands. Chilean farmers, need to balance their care for the environment that yields this beloved fruit with their business health. At Bayer we are helping them achieve this tall order through initiatives such as Food Chain Partnership to help them achieve food and safety standards; and the recently opened Hornilla Farm ForwardFarming, a model ‘hacienda’ to help growers develop further knowledge around innovative and sustainable agriculture.
Taste demand is evolving and the production of grapes is becoming more specialized every day. Therefore, whether enjoying a tasty bottle of wine in an intimate setting or a sweet bunch of grapes with friends and family on a warm summer day let’s remember the growers in Chile and other grape producing countries who with love and passion for these crops help make this wonderful and delightful moments in our lives possible.