Chilean grape growers, distributors keep wary eye on weather issues

01/15/2010 02:45:28 PM
Abraham Mahshie

December saw exceptionally high prices for grapes because of shortages in California and Brazil and delays in the early Chile crop.

Manuel Jose Alcaino, president of Decofrut, Santiago, said the most affected areas are region III and IV, with sugraone grapes most affected.

“As high volumes of Chilean grapes arrive into the U.S., the prices will start to balance out in a sounder situation,” he said. “Selling grapes at $45 a box is a tremendous opportunity, but the American market is not prepared to pay such prices with the amount of volumes Chile intends to ship into the U.S.”

Josh Leichter, director of the grape category in the Newark, Del., office of Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group, said there is definitely a delayed start and lower bunch counts on vines from the north of the country.

“There will still be promotable volumes of grapes from Chile once we get into February, March and the end of January,” he said. “There are very few areas that were affected with a total loss. The more likely effect is a delay and reduced bunch counts.”

Omar Abu-Ghazaleh, imports manager for Pacific Trellis Fruit LLC, Reedley, Calif., noted that volumes are down significantly in the San Felipe region, but will not affect volumes of white grapes.

He added he does not anticipate a sharp spike in prices as occurred last year.

“We see a more snug, more even, more active market, but we don’t see any more spikes,” he said.

Alcaino expects perhaps a two day delay in picking in the southern region, which thus far has not suffered severe weather and may see a weakened El Niño effect.

“The problems in the south have just been related to cool weather, which doesn’t really substantially affect the quality of the grapes. In fact, it enhances it,” Tjerandsen said.

“It provides more growing time, which increases the brix level as fruit is held on the stem. It tends to develop higher sugars.”

If weather in the southern areas remains compliant, suppliers expect high quality, promotable volumes of Chilean grapes.

“There are going to be grapes from Chile and there are going to be opportunities to promote them even if the weather has had some effect,” Tjerandsen said. “More of the effect is that you lose bunches, but the bunches that you still have in the end are generally of good quality.”



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