Jan Lievens of UTE Miatech says that a better understanding of this fruit will lead to a better understanding of how to handle it.
Yes, I know, the expression is all about a different kettle of fish. Yet, the expression is just as relevant for table grapes. The sooner farmers understand that they are dealing with stems and berries and not just table grapes, the better. That will make their postharvest approach so much easier.
On my last visit to Egypt, I proved a point when visiting a farmer whose season ended and where the vineyards were slowly going into their resting phase. While taking a walk through the vineyard, I could point out some healthy berries that were still on the vine with a very healthy stem connection. The berries were sugar sweet and the degrees Brix (the sugar content of an aqueous solution) was sky-high.
The berry was kept intact by the mother plant through the stem. The mother plant always looks after its offspring. Again, Mother Nature never breaks her own laws – not yesterday, not today and not tomorrow. Once you harvest your fruit, you literally cut the umbilical cord and your fruit goes into shock. That is why it is of the utmost importance to do the right thing from the moment you lift your harvest scissors and cut.
After that point, any inflicted postharvest damage accumulates and only shows up at the end, often unnoticed by the packhouse. When I pointed out the dry stem after the packaging process in the boxes, some of the packhouse managers told me straight up, “I did not pack that. It would never pass my quality-control process.”
So, are we witnessing the birth of a new species of people, the packhouse magician? No, not really. As stated before, the sooner people realise that table grapes are another kettle of fruit, the better. I was recently approached by the Besseling Group of Companies in the Netherlands, specialists in storing fruit, that is, controlled atmosphere (CA), ultra-low oxygen (ULO), dynamic controlled atmosphere (DCA), and so on, they were adamant, “Our slogan is the art of storage and we look after a lot of fruit with great success, but table grapes we will leave for you!” And that is a compliment for sure.
At a site visit to a vineyard that supplies a popular retail outlet, I witnessed table grapes that were taken right after the receiving cooler, in other words, after the initial pre-cool phases.
Already the drying stems were showing, and the damage inflicted is irreversible. The stress on the stems, although at first sight minimal, is already there and no matter what you do from this point onwards, the damage is done and will show up on the shelves. And when I looked further in the processing chain at the same batches, and when pointed out to all involved, it became clear that a change in approach is needed.
The advantage, of course, is that I could follow the grapes from packaging in Egypt, right through the packaging process, until arriving on the shelves in South Africa. But very often the same happens with our South African table grapes exported worldwide, or with Chilean, Peruvian, Argentinian, Australian, or with any other table grape growing area for that matter.
Preserving quality after harvest does not come by chance. The guys that already work with us understand and have very different results as they realised that this statement is so true that it is in fact scary. The postharvest approach in the industry must change, and the sooner the industry starts doing that, the better.