Grape varieties are presently being imported and subjected to viability tests in Battambang and Kampong Speu provinces, with agriculture officials asserting that the importation from foreign sources remains necessary at this time.
“Even though I can cultivate grapes, they are currently in the testing phase. Grapes are responsive to excessive water and can thrive in diverse soil types,” articulated Chuon Thabora, proprietor of a grape farm in Dambouk Roung commune’s Toek Laok village of Kampong Speu province’s Phnom Sruoch district.
Thabora recounted his origins in Takeo province and his residence in Phnom Penh alongside his spouse. However, the pivotal juncture in his life arrived when he had the opportunity to study winemaking under the tutelage of his uncle in France.
Driven by his newfound expertise, he resolved to acquire land for grape cultivation. In pursuit of suitable terrain, he ventured to his brother’s fruit plantation in Phnom Sruoch district.
He disclosed his acquisition of 16ha of land and the commencement of vine cultivation for testing purposes in 2016, featuring imported grape varieties.
Out of this expanse, he currently dedicates just over 3ha, acknowledging that his initial agricultural techniques fell short of desired standards.
Over the past seven years, he has nurtured more than 10,000 vines, which have now begun yielding fruit. The remaining portion of his land serves for the cultivation of various other fruit crops.
Thabora asserted that, despite the existence of over 20 grape varieties, his present focus revolves around the cultivation of a select few. For wine production, he tends to varieties such as zierfandler and masan. As for table grapes, he oversees the cultivation of the red cardinal variety, yielding three harvests annually.
He noted, however, that vineyard proprietors overseas, including those in Australia, frequently refrain from divulging the names of their grape varieties to the public.
“I chose to cultivate grapes because I possessed the knowledge of grape wine production, and purchasing grapes would incur substantial expenses. I acquired the art of crafting grape wine from my uncle residing in France,” he explained.
He noted, based on his cultivation tests, that grapes do not demand excessive watering and bear plentiful fruit during the dry season. The grape flavour exhibits variation across seasons, with the fruits harvested during the dry season being notably delectable.
Concerning grape harvests, he cannot estimate the monthly or yearly tonnage due to fruit variability. Nevertheless, he consistently supplies grapes to customers daily. His foray into winemaking using his grapes remains limited, primarily serving local villagers. He stated that approximately one ton of grapes can yield between 300 to 500 litres of wine.
“I have a friend in Australia whom I asked to search for grape varieties renowned for their bountiful fruit production. However, he conveyed the difficulties in locating such varieties. Grape farm proprietors in Australia tend to retain exclusive grape types domestically and are hesitant to share them internationally. On occasion, individuals working on these farms may discreetly distribute the varieties, but the specific names of these cultivars are typically kept undisclosed,” he explained.
He mentioned that local tourists frequently visit his farm and make grape purchases. Notably, grapes have the potential to flourish in various regions. Nevertheless, areas with excessive dew or rainfall can pose challenges due to the salt content in dew.
Regarding their cultivation, Chea Hok Ly, director of the Agronomy Office at the Kampong Speu provincial agriculture department, told The Post that Thabora stands as the exclusive grower of this crop in Kampong Speu province.
He said that the hilly terrain and mineral-rich soil of Phnom Sruoch district prove advantageous for diverse fruit crops, including grapes. During a visit to the grape farm, he observed thriving vines.
Battambang province also engages in grape cultivation.
Khat Borin, director of the Agronomy Office at the Battambang provincial agriculture department, told The Post that grapes have the potential to yield substantial income.
However, numerous farmers have encountered challenges in grape farming, resulting in a limited number of growers.
He added that Cambodia’s weather conditions present significant hurdles for their cultivation. While specific varieties can adapt to local weather, some varieties produce fruit unsuitable for consumption.
“Despite our ability to cultivate grapes, we continually confront challenges stemming from environmental factors, diseases and heat. Grapes typically flourish in moderate temperatures, but through our breeding techniques, we’ve succeeded in cultivating varieties better suited to our local environment,” he explained.
He conveyed that presently, only one farmer in Banan district has undertaken grape cultivation, which has also extended into Rattanak Mondul district. Both locations encompass no more than 4 to 5ha. This farmer engages not only in grape cultivation but also in wine production and agro-tourism endeavours. Despite the capacity to grow grapes and a substantial public demand for them the area lacks any grape growers.
Regarding grape cultivation, Khim Finan, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, told The Post that grape farming is currently part of a testing project, confined to Kampong Speu and Battambang provinces.
The combined cultivated area totals approximately 9 to 10ha, yielding around 60 to 70 tonnes annually.