1 of 2
2 of 2
Table Grapes Red
The quest for something other than Sovereign Coronation led researchers at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre to connect with others in the industry to explore more options in Canadian-grown table grapes.
The short season of domestic-grown table varieties combined with the diversity of imported options had both retailers and growers turn to Vineland in the quest for new options. Michael Kauzlaric, technology scout and grower outreach with Vineland took up the torch.
“It came around in 2012 or 2013,” Kauzlaric says of when industry and growers started the push for new options. “A lot of different varieties are getting imported into Canada. That got the attention. The question was, could we try them and test them out and see if they will grow.”
Establishing relationships with others in the industry is the foundation of the process and has been integral to finding potential varieties. Breeders and variety owners need to place their trust in Vineland if they are to allow their varieties to be trialed in Canada. The second step is to determine the success rate of the trialed varieties.
“Sovereign Coronation grapes bred by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada are the most widely cultivated table grapes in Canada,” notes Kauzlaric. “Vineland is scouting the world for new fresh grape varieties suited to our climate with consumer appeal. It takes time. [Vineland] is getting a good deal from these organizations that have spent 10 years and millions of dollars creating these varieties.”
A number of varieties have been secured with 11 already in the works. Kauzlaric hopes there will be upwards of 20 in the pipeline in the early days of 2017. They have been chosen based on the environments they currently thrive in. Obviously cold tolerance, yield, pest resistance, harvest timing and a variety of other genetic markers are part of the trial considerations.
“We are looking for something different in taste and colour and also season extension,” he says. “The taste of the grapes and making sure it’s seedless and will it ripen in time in the Canadian climate.”
Involvement from all stakeholders plays a part in the selection and Kauzlaric notes retailers have sampled some of the options and were asked if the taste was adequate for them to consider carrying the grapes if a domestic version were available. He describes Vineland’s role as that of a catalyst to bringing growers and retailers together.
“We really pulled the industry in, instead of pushing a product on everybody,” he says. “Three retailers have come out to the test block to taste varieties and provide feedback.”
In the two-acre test block, Kauzlaric planted as many varieties as possible.
“We’ve got nothing to lose, we put in a hundred vines. We’ll have some answers at the end,” he notes. “Right now there’s six varieties that were planted in 2014. They fruited for the first time this year.”
Of those six planted varieties which came from a U.S. breeding program, three are green grapes and three are blue. Other varieties are in quarantine or have just recently been planted.
“From planting to commercial release it may take five to eight years,” Kauzlaric explains. “There’s one variety that’s really got some excitement from everybody. If there is interest to go beyond the testing stage, that variety can go out next spring.”
He adds it would mean commercial planting in 2018; then 2020 or 2021 would be the target date for the other varieties that are in “clean up.”
Growers involved in the program span the country and Kauzlaric has connected with a few in B.C. “I’m open to having other [growing] sites across Canada,” he says. “That’s kind of the goal.”
Kauzlaric estimates that just 300 acres planted with new climate-specific varieties could replace up to 10 per cent of Canadian imported table grapes.
“It’s not a huge undertaking to plant 300 acres to get 10 per cent marketshare,” he says. “It keeps the retailers happy that they can still source product but can also extend the local offering.”
Retailers will receive just a pallet of new variety grapes to trial in flagship locations to determine popularity and interest. Kauzlaric describes 2017 as a “make or break” year for some of the varieties as they will go through consumer-based trials and their fourth growing season after experiencing three winters in Canadian soil. ■