From vine to plate
Preparing for the new season
The year effectively begins for grapes in the autumn, when the harvest is complete, because that’s when the vines lose their leaves and get ready for the next growing season.
Winter in the orchard
Winter can be a very busy time for growers as vines are pruned, old canes removed from the trellises and new canes selected and wrapped around the wires, so they can bear the next season's crop of grapes.
The vines come to life
From early September and throughout the spring, as the vines burst into life, they go through a series of growth stages. Firstly, young shoots appear and they develop clusters of flowers. This is called 'inflorescence'. The flowers blossom into berries (or grapes) that are at first small, hard and green. Over the spring and early summer these berries will grow and ripen and their sugar content will increase.
Harvesting and drying
Harvesting begins in late summer, early autumn (February/March) when the grapes are ripe and ready for picking. Two harvesting methods are used: traditional hand picking and, increasingly, trellis drying and mechanical harvesting.
The traditional harvesting method
Some growers still use the traditional method of picking grapes by hand, although the number is dropping. This involves the use of seasonal workers who travel to the growing areas to undertake this work. Bunches are picked and placed into buckets.
No sulphur is used in the drying process, rather all varieties except currants are sprayed with an emulsion of potassium carbonate and a refined vegetable oil. This alters the wax layer on the skin of the grapes and allows the moisture in the berries to move out through the skin, locking in the natural sugars.
Freshly picked grapes are placed on large, multi-tiered wire netting racks to dry naturally in the sun for about ten days. They are then placed onto large plastic sheets for final sun drying.
Currants are not treated with a drying emulsion; rather they are left to dry naturally on racks or the trellis, depending which harvesting system is used.
Another method of drying the grapes is to enclose them in plastic tunnels that circulate hot air (known as dehydration).
Trellis drying, sometimes known as summer pruning, was developed by the CSIRO in the late 1960s and is now the technique used by most growers.
The fruiting canes are cut to separate the bulk of fruit bunches from the vine, while retaining at least 50 per cent of the foliage. The grapes are then sprayed, ensuring they are thoroughly wetted.
Around three weeks later, when the fruit has dried to about 16 per cent moisture content and the stems are brittle, the grape bunches are mechanically harvested. The harvester moves along the rows, shaking the fruit from the vine and cleaning dry leaves and sticks from the fruit at the same time.
The fruit is then collected in large bins and finish dried in bin dehydrators.
Sorting and packing
Up to four kilograms of freshly picked grapes are required to produce just one kilo of dried fruit.
The dried fruit is taken to a local processing company for grading, cleaning and packing. It is carefully checked to ensure that it meets the most rigorous quality standards and then processed to clean the fruit and remove unwanted material, including stems. The fruit is then packaged for sale on domestic or export markets.
Preparing fruit for sale
Australian dried fruit producers use state of the art packing machines and equipment to ensure quality control.
These fill and then seal their distinctive packets for delivery to supermarkets and food outlets throughout Australia and overseas.
Fruit destined for export is sent in sealed shipping containers, so that it arrives in first class condition.
Storing dried fruit at home
Dried grapes are best stored in a cool, dry, clean and well-ventilated area, at 10–15°C.