The recent heatwaves in many grape producing countries have had knock on effects on the global market.
The hot weather has caused an early start to the Egyptian grape season, but has also delayed and damaged the production in Italy, delaying this season and leaving a gap between these usually overlapping production, which is not necessarily an issue for the export countries such as the Netherlands and the UK, who are experiencing good prices on the market.
Meanwhile, in South Africa, the rains experienced here severely affected the grape production, with some saying the past season was the most difficult in decades.
The ongoing pandemic also continues to cause problems, with its effect being felt most notably in Australia, where growers are struggling with both labour and logistical issues.
Netherlands: Good grape market, not too much supply and good prices
Grape sales have been going well in the Netherlands in recent weeks. “The Italian season started with quite high prices, as is tradition, but now we are at a somewhat more stable level,” says a Dutch importer.
“Sales continue to be good. We are not oversupplied and therefore we can continue to sell well. The relatively cool weather undoubtedly contributes to this.
The price of Italian grapes is around 2.20 Euro for Victoria and Black Magic, and the red grapes with seeds (Red Magic/Red Globe) are also doing remarkably well, with prices around EUR 2.60.
It is currently 35 degrees and upward in Sicily and this has certainly contributed to the flavour and colouring of the grapes.
The supply from Sicily is not huge. From next week onwards, we will start with the first grapes from Puglia, including our own brand Lino.
We also imported a few containers of grapes from Egypt. Those prices were around 1.20 Euro for the packed grapes and 10 Euro for the loose grapes (4.5) kilo, which is good money for Egypt.
Meanwhile I see the first Spanish grapes arriving on the market here and there. According to the importer, hardly any pitted grapes are sold on the open market in the Netherlands anymore, but the ethnic customers don’t want anything else.
UK: Late start to Spanish grape season
The Spanish grape season is running 7-10 days behind in the UK this year, with supply just starting. There is some new Spanish fruit on the market but it is mainly destined for retailers due the higher price.
There are still Chilean and Egyptian grapes on the market. The prices vary from between £5-£12, the lowest being for Chilean fruit and the highest for the new Spanish grapes.
There are still containers coming from Egypt, containing Prime, Sucra One, Flame and Crimson. As with other fruits, the Egyptians have done well improving the quality of grapes, but sometimes have a tendency to send too much and flood the markets.
At this time of year with plenty of soft fruit and other ‘summer’ fruits around grapes may take a bit of hit, but that said, they do have a pretty stable consumer base all year round
Italy: Sky-high temperatures severely affect quality of grapes
In Sicily, temperatures reached peaks of up to 46 °C, for a few consecutive days, and never fell below 40-42 °C in the middle of the day: a heat that combined with hot winds to generate Foehn.
The conditions were aggravated by night-time temperatures that have not dropped below 28 °C for days, contributing significantly to the deterioration of the table grapes on the vine.
“The fruit on the young plants, especially the red grapes, suffered 70 per cent loss, but in the adult vineyards we were able to harvest a good part of the product. Some varieties have completely stopped growing,” reports a Sicilian grower.
“We also have the problem of increased labour costs, because we can’t have people working in the field after 10:30/11.”
In Apulia, the table grape campaign will officially start next week (the 27th of 2021), both for the traditional early seeded cultivars (Victoria and Black Magic) and the seedless ones. Good quality and adequate quantity are expected.
In the earliest areas, there will be an increase in production of around 20% compared to last year, despite a delay of around 10 days.
Inland, the campaign will start later, around 10 August: here the 15-day delay initially forecast has been made up for due to the high temperatures.
In some areas of the region, such as Grottaglie and Mola di Bari, the first crates of Black Magic grapes have been harvested and the comments seem entirely positive: the organoleptic characteristics of the bunches are extraordinary, with medium-large grapes and a very high sugar level.
Some factors to bear in mind for this season in Puglia are: rising raw material costs, drought and labour shortages.
In general, the table grape sector is open to innovations in terms of both product and process.
“For example, we are looking carefully at packaging that is sustainable not only from an environmental point of view,” says a producer from Puglia, “but also in economic terms. And this also applies to covers in the fields. We are thinking about new irrigation systems and automation in the cultivation and harvesting phases in order to cope with the constant lack of labour.”
Spain: Late start to Spanish grape harvest
The Spanish table grapes campaign has just started in the early zones of the Region of Murcia and Almería. The harvest starts late this year and with the exception of some losses in early varieties such as Sugraone, a good quality production is expected.
At the same time that Spain has a late start of its season, Egypt is having an early ending of its campaign. Normally, the first Spanish table grape tends to overlap with the last phase of the Egyptian campaign and even with those of India, sometimes.
But this year, the consequences of the pandemic on logistics and the still noticeable effects of the incident in the Suez Canal with the Evergreen have also caused long delays in the arrivals of Egyptian grapes. Therefore, Spanish grapes are clashing less with this origin and the market is more open.
Egypt: Hot weather causes early start and high production for Egyptian grape season
The Egyptian grape season started a little earlier than expected, around May. The early arrival was caused mostly by hot weather, as Egypt has dealt with 45 degrees Celsius temperatures.
There will be higher production for the grapes in Egypt this season, combined with solid demand at the moment.
The red grape varieties, such as Red Varieties Flame, Red Globe and Crimson, are gaining ground as these grapes contain high levels of brix. The Arabian countries prefer grapes with high brix levels, whilst European countries prefer lower levels.
South Africa: Most difficult grape season in over a decade
It was a difficult grape season for growers in the regions where rain affected harvesting and quality, and shipping delays & container shortages led to cold stores imposing quotas on intakes for the first time ever (this occurred in January & February).
Some grape growers talk of the previous season as a watershed season as retail competition increases on the international front.
One Hex River grower says this was the most difficult season in more than a decade. The strength of the Rand against the US dollar (15% to 30% stronger than the previous year) didn’t help export earnings.
The arrival of problem fruit from early South African production regions, due to rain damage, and during the latter part of the season from the Hex River Valley and Chile, following rain in these regions, created difficult market conditions in Europe.
The final figures for this past season have just been finalized: the final inspection figures (so grapes inspected for possible export) for 2020/21 was 74,893,384 of 4,5Kg equivalent cartons and the actual exports came to 72,182,786 4,5Kg cartons.
A Boland wine cellar reported receiving record amounts of waste grapes from vineyards that produce export grapes, as producers had to make the difficult call not to export due to the difficulties they encountered.
There are three cold fronts making landfall over the Western Cape this week, bringing rain and cool weather to the benefit of the vineyards. The start of the next season is still many months away.
In terms of imports to South Africa, average market price rose to almost R30 (1.76 euros) per kilogram recently.
North America: Difficult season despite good quality
As California moves into its grape production, the industry is seeing a challenging transition from the Mexico season to California’s.
“This year is probably the least smooth we’ve had over the last few years,” says a California based producer.
He notes that miscommunications over harvest volumes mean quality control representatives in Mexico are reporting emptier than anticipated cold storages of grapes.
“Some are only operating at 20-30 percent capacity right now. In the past they would have been stocked full of fruit to the rafters,” he says.
That said, there may be movement behind those emptier storages. “We’re hearing from the USDA in the area that crop volume isn’t off the initial estimates of 21 million packages, but that they feel like movement is good and keeping the crop moving,” he says.
With California production just getting started, the Californian producer says it might pressure Mexican growers to harvest the premium varieties still left including Jack’s Salute, Krissy and Sweet Globes that are finishing this week in Mexico.
As for California, while some growers have begun harvesting, early this week more fruit began to come out of Arvin, CA and the producer notes the early overall crop estimates look similar to 2020 in size.
“Quality seems to be good so far this year in California,” he says. “We’re fighting issues such as a heat wave last week. Initial reports are that the 110s and 112s are going to see some heat-related damage. It’s still early on preliminary reports but there is some damage on green seedless such as sunburn, some raisining, etc. There shouldn’t be a drastic impact to the crop.” Instead, he anticipates it will bring some early volumes down somewhat.
He also notes that given the proliferation of new grape varieties over the past decade, growers continue to pull out what are considered some of the older varieties in rotation such as Flames, Crimsons, Sugraone and Princess and be replaced by varieties such as Jack’s Salute, Allisons, Ivories and others.
“There are certain varieties growers have under their belt now and they’re favoring those a little bit more than others.”
As for demand, while he anticipates demand to be good for grapes, overall he notes the category is somewhat stagnant. “It’s not decreasing but it’s not gaining much market share,” he says.
That said, with foodservice outlets continuing to reopen across North America, that will see the return of some opportunities. “It can only be a positive for the California grape crop because it’s another pipeline they’ll be able to fill,” he says.
Meanwhile on pricing, Mexico is finishing up with higher than anticipated FOBs, especially on premium varieties. “I’m surprised it’s finishing as high as it is which I worry could create a long market out of a short market at the end,” he says. California, however, seems to be trending towards prices similar to historic levels.
That said, pricing this year needs to incorporate the significantly increased input costs that growers of all commodities are reporting.
Australia: Grape market harrowed by labour and transport issues
The Australian table grape season runs from November to May, and the widespread impacts COVID-19 provided many challenges for growers over the past 12 months.
Several Australian growers noted that the two main challenges faced during the pandemic are the struggle to find labour and trying to navigate logistics in export countries.
However, production-wise, most are reporting that they still had an average crop for this season, and an increase in quality and fruit size this season due to the favourable weather conditions.
A grower in Western Victoria says the importance of good quality fruit in a COVID-19 affected period has actually helped continue its sales growth in Asia.
From an industry perspective production continues to grow; the latest statistics show that for the year ending June 2020, 214,660 tonnes were produced, up three per cent on the previous year and valued at $750million, up eight per cent.
Export also grew, with an increase of four per cent to 152,180 tonnes, and a 12 per cent value jump to $622.9million for the 2019-20 season.
The biggest international market was China (62,930 tonnes), which was the only one of the top three destinations to increase volume from the previous season. Menindee and Thompson were the biggest varieties with a combined share of 38 per cent of production.