Grape Alliance managing director Leon de Kock says the company can see supermarket orders from Europe and the UK coming in stronger as they pick up the slack with their Hex River grapes as the Orange River crop is reduced by rain damage.
It’s been a bit of a stop-start season in the Hex River Valley.
“The sugars are developing more gradually than last year,” he says.
“We’re not late, the way the Orange River was late, we’re more or less on time. All of the cultivars, including Crimsons with which we expect to start next week, are slower to ripen, which you can see as a good thing, having the grapes more spread out than last year.”
In their Hex River vineyards they’re packing red Arra29 and white Arra 15 (above). Their Namibian season went without a hitch, with steady quality and strong volumes.
Wind and productivity constraints at Cape Town Harbour, due to Covid, led them to pack grape consignments originally meant for two vessels onto the Maersk Luz, which was since delayed by two weeks in Cape Town.
In two days’ time the vessel is arriving in Rotterdam, 12 days late, with their first Hex River grapes for Europe and the UK. Not overjoyed about it, he says, but they’re being philosophical.
“Demand for grapes is steady, and while the price did drop after Christmas as it always will, it remained firmer after Christmas than one could perhaps have expected,” Leon says.
“The big risk now is the closure of markets due to Covid. That causes some uncertainty. But the fact that we can fill orders coming our way as a result of lower Orange River volumes – and we will definitely have enough grapes – places us in a good position.”
Seventy percent of their grapes go to Europe and to the UK.
The big thing they’re seeing with retail, where weekly sales figures show a year-on-year rise, is that, unlike during the first lockdown period, things are progressing as normal.
Business as usual post-Brexit
Does post-Brexit UK feel any different? “It’s only to Europeans that it feels so different but for us it’s business as usual, we’ve always been used to the paperwork and phytosanitary certificates that accompany international trade, so for us there’s nothing new to the current situation.”
Transport within the UK is perhaps slightly slower than usual, but that he ascribes to Covid, not to Brexit, and anyway, he says, that’s negligible compared to the vessel delay.
Arra29 grapes being packed for Grape Alliance in the Hex River Valley (photos supplied by Leon de Kock)
They have had no incidences of Covid in their packhouses and the one case in their head office was swiftly isolated and no further infections followed.