Have you tasted the intense sweetness of an organic grape? There is no comparison. When you know what goes into producing them, you understand why they taste so good.
The Dichieras grow four varieties of table grape on 40 hectares in Mildura, northern Victoria. The land had been a commercial farm for 50 years when Zoe and Nelson Dichiera bought it in 2007. Zoe admits she didn’t realise how many chemicals went onto crops in pursuit of perfect produce.
“I’m not from a farming background and I really didn’t realise how many sprays and chemicals went into growing a natural product,” Zoe says.
“We have four young children [18 months to 10 years] and I wanted them to be able to go out into the paddocks and pick the grapes without worrying about them consuming chemicals. I don’t think consumers know what goes into trying to achieve perfection.” Zoe doesn’t blame supermarkets for this. She thinks it starts on the farm, with the agricultural chemical reps who persuade farmers to use a particular brand of chemical because “such-and-such up the road is using it and producing great fruit and vegetables”. She says farmers don’t really want to spend money on chemicals either; it’s just that they get caught in competitive cycles.
The farm, which markets its fruit as Borderland, is certified with Australian Certified Organic. This means the Dichieras undergo an audit every year to make sure their management practices comply with the Australian Certified Organic Standard.
It does taste better
Zoe swears farming organically produces better tasting grapes. It intensifies the natural sugars and therefore the flavour of the grape. She says, “We get letters from people telling us that our grapes taste like they remembered them tasting when they were kids. Organic farming does change the taste of the fruit.”
The added bonus for the Dichieras is improving soil health. “Human health was a primary motivation for switching to organics and then you get the added bonus of returning the soils to where they’re supposed to be at. Healthier plants make for stronger plants that can resist diseases and insect attack.” Zoe and Nelson also release beneficial insects to combat the pest insects.
Eat them quickly
Unlike conventional table grapes, organic grapes can’t be stored. This is because they’re not treated with artificial aids such as sulphur pads, which are like tissue paper that draws the moisture out of the grapes, stops them from rotting and can help them keep for three months in cold storage.
Organic grapes need to be eaten fresh – within two weeks of picking. Because farmers can’t use synthetic aids, organic grapes can develop brown stems; however, this does not affect the quality of the fruit. “We consider the grapes to be a bit like strawberries – they can turn quickly,” says Zoe.
In peak harvest, the Dichieras employ up to 30 people to harvest and pack. Weed control is the bane of their farm and their highest cost. They manually weed with chip hoes, and teams of weeders walk through the farm much more frequently than on a conventional farm just to stay on top of the weeds.
Where can you buy them?
You will find Borderland grapes in major supermarkets such as Coles and Woolworths in most states and territories except Western Australia and Tasmania from January onwards. They also sell into the wholesale markets in capital cities.
They’re launching a new product in early 2015, which will make grapes more convenient to eat. Victorian readers – look out for it in Woolworths.
If you love reading about organic farmers you will enjoy this story.by