Monday, October 30, 2017

The Quest for Better Grapes

Do you ever wonder why superior grapes are so hard to find? We do.

In our family grapes are essential to survival. Well, perhaps not up there with air & water, but close. OK, clothing & shelter perhaps rank slightly above grapes, but not by all that much. We really like grapes.

First, grapes taste & look great. Second, grapes are good for you, particularly if you eat all varieties. Third, grapes are one of the few fruits or vegetables our teenage sons will each eat willingly & even ask for with neither reward nor threat of punishment. Fourth, forget First & Second. Third is all that matters. Reward & threats were never necessary for grapes even when our teenagers were real preteen brats.

This was never necessary at our house.

But here's the dilemma.

You go to the store, whether your local grocer, big box store or even the organic specialty place. You have one objective. You want & need a very large quantity of good grapes. You may need other stuff too, but we are only talking about grapes here. Nothing else.

Maybe you're planning a huge family reunion. Maybe it's a weekend youth group gathering for teens from 1/4 of the United States. Whatever. You simply need lots & lots of grapes. And you need good ones. Are we clear?

The problem is you can't find lots of consistently good grapes. Sure you can find them by the bazillions, but quality is all over the place - and not in a good way. Some are tiny, hard, bitter & gross. Some are huge, mushy, slimy & gross. And these can all be found in the same bag. How can that be?

How can one bunch contain under ripe, perfect & over ripe grapes? Did that bunch travel to different parts of the world in recent weeks & some of its members get confused? Are some of the grapes overly ambitious, some perfectly balanced & others just laggards? Are grapes kinda like your extended in-laws?

Technically a large collection of grapes is more properly referred to as a cluster, but bunch will do here. Cluster is a rather cumbersome word, plus it can lead back to confusion with extended in-laws. Let's stick with bunch to avoid both cumbersomeness & extended in-laws. Keep things safe & pleasant all around.

This grape enigma has baffled grape consumers for as long as the there have been grapes. And that's pretty long. Grapes have actually been around way longer than baffled human grape consumers, especially the baffled human grape consumers we've talked to. This issue merits looking into, and we aim to do that here.

Grapes ripen right? So why are some bunches in the same bag riper than other bunches? There should be some simple reason, perhaps a formula for grape success. bunch A + bunch B = AB  or maybe it’s Bag A= (1+2)B/ RF where RF is the ripeness factor. Did I mention I hate math? That’s why it is so much easier to purchase by sight. But why do they make it so hard?  Then why do we see it all the time, seemingly everywhere, bunch A ≠,bunch B, wherever we shop, with so few exceptions?

We just impressed ourselves with use of fancy mathematical keystrokes we didn't previously know existed. Maybe former our former math teachers are giving us a break unlike when we are in school & it really counted. But lets move on.

The absence of grape uniformity in stores is because all too often grapes are picked in the vineyard by different people.

Some folks have good eyesight & can choose well on what they put in the bag. But we bet there are some folks are nearsighted and  don’t choose so well. Maybe the tall pickers get the better bunches and leave the runts for the shorter pickers. Or maybe the short pickers are real short & just pick ‘em off the ground. How do you know a grape is ripe anyway? Which ripeness formula? Do pickers carry a grape calculator?

We think the pickers who see well must just be pickier than other less picky pickers. So why do grape growers & resellers tolerate this pickiness? Based on this fact there must be a margin of error of sorts. Maybe a mathematical or assumed consumer ignorance margin of error & they expect the grape consuming public to tolerate that same margin. How nice of them.

It does not have to be this way. Demanding grape consumers can unite & declare "We're as mad as hell, and we're not going to take this anymore!"

As well you should.

But before you go shouting cluelessly from your office & home windows it may be a good idea to gain some insight as to what you're shouting about in the first place & why. Yes, it's because of inconsistent grapes. But sit down & take a deep breath while we explore reasons why those grapes are inconsistent.

In the old days before there was today's massive population of grape consuming humans grapes grew naturally in their native habitat. And they ripened naturally too. Their reward was being eaten by grape consuming animals who ate only the superior grapes when they encountered them. Remember this was before humans, much less a massive population of them.

Then along came the human. Then came a second human. Then several. And they all liked grapes. This worked out quite well until humans procreated faster than grapes could. At some point there became a human-grape population imbalance. That's when all the trouble started.

Humans could no longer rely only on wild grapes. They began to plant & cultivate grapes. That also worked out well for a few thousand years. Until at some point it stopped working out well.

The point when it stopped working out well is frankly about when our parents were born. Or maybe when we ourselves were born. This is not to blame our parents. And it is certainly not to blame you or us. But we must blame someone. So let's blame "the masses".

When the human-grape population became severely imbalanced grape growers sought & found ways to stem the tide. Reverse the trend. In other words make way more grapes. Sometimes they did pretty good but sometimes they botched it up. That's why they call us humans. To err is human & all that.

Early grape growers were mom & pop types who tended to do things pretty good & cared a lot about their customers. Because those customers were friends & family who could yell directly at them if they produced bad grapes.

Over time moms & pops gave way to large scale grape growers who did not know their customers & could not be yelled at because they hid in large brick corporate headquarters buildings. That's when grape quality really started to go downhill.

But did it? It seems some headquarters get it right, even these days considering the great looming human-grape imbalance.

We don't pretend to be experts on grapes, but we've done a little research. We hope that's kind of apparent if you've read this far.

We are not here to shill any grape grower or company, but that won't stop us from calling attention to one if we feel like it. We did stumble upon one that looks both legit & wholesome.

Enough about them. We may hear from their attorneys even though we're only calling them out as a good example. They might just not like our attitude.

If we're lucky they'll never find out we exist. If we're luckier still they may like our attitude & pay us to write stuff for them. Or they may pay us to go away & never mention them again. Income opportunities abound but we'll explore those later on our time not yours.

Back to a point we made a while back. Grapes are good for you, particularly if you eat all varieties. There are many varieties. New exotic varieties are introduced every year. But there are three staples at our house. We provide healthy specimen images of each for those who were born yesterday or are really naive about grapes.

Green grapes:

Red grapes:

Black grapes:

Now that we've got your mouth watering we shall move on. Plus our teenagers are due home from school any minute & we are out of grapes. Best not to let them see what dad is working on lest they eat his computer.

As a consumer you may wonder how to find superior grapes produced by superior growers. Do their growers use special chemicals or secret methods? The way to get answers is simple. Ask questions wherever you buy grapes. If you know your local grocer ask him or her. They should be glad you asked & more than happy to accommodate you.

This is not our grocer, but he looks like a real nice & smart person who both knows good produce & would answer questions truthfully if someone asked.

If you shop at a chain grocery or big box store ask the produce manager if they know how their grapes are grown. They may explain those decisions are made by corporate buyers or purchasing agents. Tell them you know that because, well, you now know that. Ask them to ask those corporate people if they know how their grapes are grown... If the corporate people don't already know they will now - because you asked.

When you go back next time ask again. If your first request seems to have fallen on deaf ears ask louder & more slowly. Kinda like you do with in-laws who don't hear so well. Your grape retailer should get the picture even if your in-laws never do.

Ask your friends to do what you just did. Superior retailers listen & respond to their customers. That mantra seems to be woven into every retailer slogan. Put them to the test & make them earn your grape business on every visit to the produce aisle where the bunches are equal, the bags are equal and the buying experience is equal; “Out with the tiny, bitter, wimpdog grapes”, “Out with big mush and the color brown”. Let them know grape consumers are demanding animals when it comes to repeat business. And please don’t make us “mad as hell”, ever again... A superior retailer will ultimately thank you for it. So will friends, family & neighbors who will now be able to count on readily available superior grapes.

Don't even get us started about blueberries. We'll talk about the superior blueberry next week.

Big time disclaimer: Sun World did not approve or authorize use of their name or link to their website. We just happened to find them in our research, and they look legit & wholesome from what we can tell. This is the opinion of us as grape enthusiasts only. We hope they won't object.


Peter Stoddard
Stoddard Media
1400 Market Place Blvd
Cumming GA 30041