Swan Valley growers branch out for grape harvest

Marlene and Matt Katich, of Kato's Grapes and Fresh Fruit Ice Cream, show their latest product. Picture: Matt Jelonek www.communitypix.com.au   d445667
Marlene and Matt Katich, of Kato's Grapes and Fresh Fruit Ice Cream, show their latest product. Picture: Matt Jelonek www.communitypix.com.au d445667

THE business end of the year is approaching in the Swan Valley and vignerons will soon start madly harvesting and vending table grapes.

It can be a hard way to make a living according to the Katichs at 3000 West Swan Road – selling table grapes and making their money just three months of the year.

The Swan Valley’s vignerons already face challenges of urbanisation, water allocations and expensive rates.

But Matt and Marlene Katich have adapted to market demand for new grape varieties and have planted more vines at another property to boost production.

Now they have a new plan to draw in more visitors and extend their window of trading – ice cream.

Kato’s at 3000 is an example of grape growers in the Swan Valley expanding to entice more visitors to the busy tourism route.

Using fresh fruits sourced from their garden or around the Swan Valley, Marlene has applied her skills as a former home economics teacher to expand the family business.

“The modern-day vigneron is a mixture of intellect, innovation and true grit – that’s what we need to be to stay viable,” Ms Katich said.

“I’ve always been interested in food and we wanted an add-on to the business.”

It is exactly the kind of entrepreneurialism the new draft Swan Valley Development Plan recognises as the key to keeping agriculture in the region viable.

The plan identifies potential for diversification of agricultural production – specialty products, value-adding to local agricultural products through processing and manufacturing, and exploitation of increasing demand for fresh, local and sustainably grown produce.

But Mr Katich said diversification was only a small add on to the main business and did not solve the real problems associated with urbanisation and the high cost of production.

“It is disappointing that the new development plan has omitted support for viticulture in the Swan Valley, leaving us with an uncertain future,” he said.

“Value-adding and diversification is just a flippant remark in the plan – you can’t rely on these things alone.

“In other areas of the world, vignerons are widely supported by government.”

Other local vignerons are also innovating – exploring overseas markets, leasing more land to create economies of scale and ripping out old crops for new varieties.

Grape Growers Association of WA president Darryl Trease is exploring Asian markets for export and leasing more land to grow new varieties in the Swan Valley.

He said it was important to create economies of scale in preparation for quarantine changes which will allow overseas and interstate grapes into WA.