“The grape production in Chile, we’re in tricky times.”
So says Nicolas Damm of Rio Blanco in an early look at the upcoming Chilean grape season. The season follows a difficult season earlier this year that saw an early end due to significant rains in Chile at the end of January.
“Rio Blanco had a 3 million box estimation last year before the rain. With the rain, we lost 500,000 cases, about 15 percent,” says Damm.
For Rio Blanco, it does mean it will see an increase in volume this season, largely also because Rio Blanco has switched its production over to many of the newer varieties of grapes--ones retailers prefer according to Brix levels and sizing, but which also offer higher yields. “At least 80 percent of our production is all new varieties so we are seeing a natural growth. Our estimate this coming season is about 3.4 million cases,” he says.
The Chilean season in the northern part of the country starts in early December and overall Chile wraps up at the end of April, after which one to two months of storage product is also carried.
Given last season’s early departure, Damm says while it’s early to know what the season will exactly look like, an increase in acreage isn’t likely. “The growers are just seeing the actual results from last season and how much money they’ll receive and it’s pretty drastic for some,” he says. “We may see a loss of acreage. Many growers in Chile haven’t changed to those new varieties and it’s going to be very difficult for those who haven’t done the changes to do so.”
At the same time, an increase in volume is anticipated. “The rain that affected volumes last season, that loss of volume was only due to those rains. So the acreages that have switched into new varieties will have higher yields and we may see a compensation between the losses and the higher production as well,” he adds.
Needless to say, the upcoming climate in Chile is being watched closely. “We still have a huge drought issue in Chile. We had some snowfall but it was just in one growing area very high up and not affecting volume,” Damm says. “We had some rains that might help too.”
At the same time, Chile’s window of shipping fruit without competition continues to get tighter. In the early part of the season, Peru continues to compete with greater volumes and increasingly good quality fruit. In Asia, grapes from Australia and India compete as do South African grapes going to Europe. Brazil’s production also continues to increase and Mexico is growing grapes earlier and earlier. “So we just have to make sure we compete with good quality fruit in good condition,” says Damm.
And, as growers and shippers around the world have seen throughout 2021, global shipping issues will likely still be of concern going into the grape season. “There are big delays and the availability of containers is challenging. Cherries are before grapes in Chile and it has huge production and demands large numbers of containers,” says Damm. “So we’re a bit of afraid of what can happen logistically.”