While the Italian grapes industry dates back to the Roman 20 centuries ago, it is only in the last 30 years that there has been an increasing focus on seedless varieties.
It all started when Franco Didonna (a grape grower-exporter and a passionate globetrotter) shipped his first seedless grapes to the United Kingdom in 1984; gradually other exporters realized that the trend which was affecting the customers’ preferences in USA and in UK was soon going to have a major impact on Italy. Already in those days Italy was the larger grower and exporter of table grapes in Europe.
Now a further acceleration is happening in the Italian grape industry and two trends are reshaping the Italian offer: the concentration of offer, with an increasing number of growers with relevant size, and the focus of the main breeders on the Italian market which is strictly connected to the increasing investments of the Italian growers in varietal innovation.
Big commercial players who used to be mainly exporters are now significantly increasing their agricultural investments in order to have more control on the grapes they market. The largest single desk organization in Italy is now in direct control of 2500 hectares of grapes and many other growers have more than 200 hectares of table grapes planted in their farms.
While the traditional and royalty-free varieties (like Regal and Crimson) still account for the majority of volumes grown, the main international breeders (namely SNFL, Sun World, IFG and Arra), will have 1000 hectares on new varieties in production in 2018, in addition to approximately 1000 hectares of Sugraone which were planted starting from 1995 when the growers wrongly assumed there were no intellectual property restrictions to plant this variety.
Seedless grapes are mainly grown in Puglia area where they account for 30-35% of the total table grapes crop. There other two areas with still small but commercially relevant volumes in production: the North-West region of Piemonte (with Crimson and some Arra varieties in an advanced test phase) and Sicily. Each of these regions has less than 100 hectares in production, but they strategically help in extending the Italian seedless season which now starts in June and ends in December.
The most trendy seedless grapes among the Italian growers are at the moment: Arra30 (green seedless as a replacement to Sugraone), Allison and Scarlotta (red seedless which are effectively replacing Crimson and extending the late part of the season), AutumnCrisp (a potential game changer in the late green market), Timpson (green) for its muscat flavour. Some speciality grapes are also being planted in the last period: Sable Seedless and Cotton Candy (considered the grapes with the most distinctive flavour).
Meanwhile three Italian breeding programmes have just started: Grape & Grape (with three varieties already in the commercial stage: Apulia, Fiammetta and Luisa), Italian Variety Club IVC (focusing on seedless muscat flavoured varieties) and the recently formed Nuvaut (31 grower members and 36 varieties in the test phase, of which 9 in an advanced stage).