A day out in Coimbatore's vineyards can leave you feeling bubbly, writes Subha J Rao

It's not yet 10 in the morning. The sun is already playing peek-a-boo, lighting up the picturesque Siruvani Road one minute and casting a long shadow the next. But, it's nice and bright at the 250-odd vineyards (spanning 800 acres from Perur to Semmedu) that supply all the Muscat grapes consumed in Coimbatore, its nearby areas and neighbouring Kerala.

A dirt path leads you to another world. You hear the banter of grape pickers, and the click click of the sharp clippers as they snip the heavy, ripe bunches from the vines. The intoxicating fragrance of grapes envelopes you as you walk among the vines dipping your head to avoid hitting a bunch of fruits. Suddenly, a patch of sunlight, and everything looks molten gold.

Bunches of the fruit (also called paneer or rose mundhiri), in a mix of dull pink, red-black, and tender green, hang by slender stems, all ready to be loaded into six-kg cardboard boxes and deep plastic trays. From the farm, the boxes make their way to the local market before being distributed, and to the office of the Coimbatore Grape Growers Association (CGGA).

The Association does quite a bit to popularise the fruit. It sells them in front of its office in Madhampatti, at farm-gate price. The USP? The grapes are freshly plucked and you also know which farm the fruit came from, and the name of the farmer involved. “That way,” says M. Vijayan, president, CGGA, “they take care to send us the very best. Their reputation is at stake!”

The association supplies pesticides and fertilisers to all members, to ensure no spurious products are used. They also guide them on usage.

Grapes have been cultivated in this stretch for more than 45 years now, but it is only about 25 years since the farmers came together under the umbrella of an association. “We used to have 4,000 acres devoted to grapes earlier. But, its now down to 800 acres,” says Vijayan.

Kerala is the largest consumer of grapes produced in the region, and a lot of people from there make it a point to drop in and visit the vineyards. “They are really keen to see where the grapes come from,” says Vijayan.

A few farmers such as T.M. Varadharajan of TMV farm and K.R. Sadasivam of KRS Farms have gone organic. Varadharajan, also president of the Tamil Nadu Grape Growers Federation, grows grapes in one acre at his farm near Thondamuthur. “I moved to organic farming six years ago. My yield has come down by 50 per cent, but the taste is much better,” he says.

The organic path

At Sadasivam's sprawling farm in Kupanoor in Madhampatti village, 15 acres have been devoted to organically-grown grapes. He followed the insecticide-pesticide route for many years, before deciding he did not want to pollute his land further. Now, like Varadharajan, he uses bio-fertiliser, panchagavya and neem oil to deal with pests. “My yield is not as much {he gets just about 300 boxes per acre as against the nearly 1,000 he got earlier}, but I've stuck to my decision,” he says.

Muscat grapes don't have a long shelf life — they last just about three days. So, most of the produce ends up being used as table grapes. Vijayan says that if the Government helps, they can look at processing the fruit into squashes and jams. That's something Sadasivam and Varadharajan are already doing. Just last week, Sadasivam went to TNAU and converted some of the organic grapes into juice. He's planning to soon stock them in organic stores. Varadharajan has been making organic grape juice concentrate and grape jam for a while now. They are stocked at organic outlets such as Arya (R.S. Puram) and OTR Farm, in Saibaba Colony, besides outlets in Chennai and Thanjavur.

Fruit route

Grape vines start fruiting when they are nearly two years old. Till they are about 13 years old, they fruit thrice a year. If the weather gods play along, ensuring all the fruits mature at the same time, the yield is harvested in one lot. Else, the workers work their way through the vines at least thrice to salvage as many fruits as they can. so that all the fruits that can be salvaged are. Usually, an acre yields up to 1,500 boxes a season.

Keywords: vineyards

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012