Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Expensive Japanese grapes

Guests at an upscale Japanese hotel had a special treat after dinner: "dream grapes" that are fresh, juicy - and cost nearly $34 a pop.

Kagaya, a renowned Japanese-style inn in the central prefecture of Ishikawa, bought a bunch of Ruby Roman grapes for Y100,000 ($1030) when the first batch of the new-variety grapes came to a local market.

"We served them last evening to our repeat customers who were staying in top-notch rooms," Kagaya's chief cook Fujio Uko said Tuesday.

"We wanted to delight our customers and also wanted to wish producers good luck" on the debut day, he said.

The bunch of around 30 grapes weighed some 700 grams. The red-skin grapes look almost like tomatoes and can be as big as three centimetres in diametre.

A pair of grapes was served to each customer, Uko said.

"They said the grapes were not excessively sweet but fresh, delicious and juicy," he said.

The average price of the 48 bunches auctioned Monday was Y27,000, according to Kiyoaki Umeda, an agriculture official in the prefecture, who said the figure was higher than producers expected.

The prefecture took 14 years to put Ruby Roman on the market since it first sowed the seeds. It dubs Ruby Roman "dream grapes" and hopes they will boost the region's profile.

The prefecture plans to ship 1,500 bunches, or one tonne, of Ruby Roman grapes this season only to the Ishikawa market, Umeda said.

"There may be a possibility of exporting them in the future, but we first aim to distribute the grapes to people in the prefecture," he said.

Japanese often present top-quality fruits such as melons as gifts. The first batches of carefully grown fruit often fetch extraordinary prices, making headlines in newspapers.

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