Thursday, January 17, 2008

Day 13

Day 13  January 16, 2008


     Fifty years ago Don Antonio Carleti started a cherry orchard in Tunuyan.  Their name is synonymous with cherries throughout South America and in parts of Europe. With his wife and three sons they slowly grew the operation and added wine grapes, peaches, plums, apples and nectarines.  In time they needed a packing operation and now have two modern lines to pack over 700,000 wooden boxes of fruit.  They decided that this area was not the best for apples and have replaced most with soft fruit. This past year a cold spring cut their cherry crop from 217,000 5 Kilo cartons to 87,000.  It was a big hit as the demand for winter cherries in the northern hemisphere far exceeded the supply.  They are planting cherries and hope the weather is better next year. Their peach crop is beautiful.

     Deborah Meier was our delightful guide for the day.  She was born in Switzerland to a mother from Switzerland who had gone to Israel to work on a kibbutz.  There she met and married a man from Argentina.  Deborah was raised in Switzerland but at age 17 visited her fathers homeland and decided to stay.  She is married to an Argentine ski instructor, and as she speaks five languages, she works in sales at Carleti. 

     We went through the packinghouse and watched the peaches that were being sold to Brazil.  Large and clean, they had great flavor and aroma.  The cherries had all been packed and sold, except for the Maraschino cherries.  During the 1960's there was only one company in Argentina that made maraschino cherries.  They had been buying cherries from Carleti, but the owner died in an airplane crash.  Carleti needed an outlet for his cull cherries, so he hired the manager of the plant, moved the operation from San Rafael to Tunuyan and continued production.  Today this is an integral part of the business and is quite profitable as they have a monopoly on the product.

     Today Carleti is owned by the three sons of Don Antonio Carleti and run by the four grandsons.  We had lunch with Freddy Carleti and he told us the family history.  He has visited  California, Washington and Oregon at least 15 times.  Recently he has come to Wenatchee twice and several people from Stemilt, Dovex and other warehouses have visited him here. The Carleti's are in a joint venture with Mauro Feliz of Wenatchee to develop a 30 H block of Sweethearts on virgin soil north of Tupungato.  We walked through it and captured some amazing photos of the gigantic Mount Tupungato overlooking the valley.

      Last year he visited the new Monson cherry line in Selah and watched the optical scanning technology that evaluates each individual cherry before packing.  He may have to add that technology, but for now can continue to pack with the older machinery.  His workers in the field earn about $20 per day and his overall costs are about half of a Wenatchee grower.  Land costs have exploded here.  The orchard behind his packing plant was purchased for $250 per Hectare in 1992 and he sold it to investors from California in 2006 for $6000 per H.  He says today it would bring $10,000.  Good orchard land with irrigation water is selling for $10-15,000 per H depending on location.  But location is everything here as there is quite a serious problem with hail.  The government subsidizes the cost of installing hail netting and many of the blocks have vast canopies of netting. The other problem worth noting is a 6-20% mortality annually in their cherry orchards, which Freddy thinks is due to poor root stock.  They use a Maxa which is a combination of Mazzard and Mahaleb but he is looking for a better root stock. 

     After an excellent lunch we toured the main office and saw their modern accounting and computer facilities.  At 6pm we met our guides for the next two days: Esteban Farre and Ricardo Lodi from Grupo Alvarez in San Rafael.  They drove us for three hours 250 K south to the beautiful city of San Rafael.  This town of over 200,000 is fertile and prosperous, a real oasis surrounded by hundreds of kilometers of empty dry land. The northern cities we visited are having a problem with the Mediterranean Fruit fly, the vast desert insulates and protect San Rafael from this pest.  We checked in to the Towers Hotel and rested up for another day of orchards. At ten pm we went across the street to get some dinner.  The restaurants were all empty but by the time we finished dinner at 11 they were all crammed.  People in this country eat dinner between 11 and 1am and are then back at work at 8 or 9 the next morning. We are tired but have learned a lot and been with very nice people.

No comments: