A grocery store owner in Japan recently paid 1.1 million yen ($11,000) for a bunch of grapes of the Ruby Roman variety. He now plans to put them on display in his store and then give them to customers as taste samples.
Special fruits are a status symbol in Japan, sort of like rare wines in the Western world. It’s also customary to give high-quality fruits for formal occasions like weddings, business meetings or hospital visits and there are specialized fruit shops that sell only the rarest, most perfect products, grown in special conditions to ensure they look and taste as good as possible. The truly exceptional fruits are regularly auctioned off to the highest bidder, who often gift them to people perceived to be of a higher status, as a sign of respect and appreciation.
The 30 grapes bought by Takamaru Konishi were the first of the Ruby Roman variety harvested this season. They were the size of ping pong balls, and the buyer himself called them “truly Ruby Roman gems”. Well, they better had been, to be worth $11,000, or $370 per grape.
Cultivated only in the Ishikawa Prefecture, off the coast of the Sea of Japan, Ruby Roman grapes date back to 1992, when seeds of the Fujimory variety were first cultivated. Over the years, they were then cultivated into the Roman Ruby variety, which was named after submissions from the public in 2004. To be worthy of the Ruby Roman label, grapes must weight at least 20 grams and have a sugar content of at least 18%. They were introduced to the Japanese fruit auction market in 2008 and their price has been soaring ever since. Unsurprisingly, Konishi’s grapes set a new record for the world’s most expensive grapes sold at an auction.
“I was getting cold sweats,” Konishi told reporters after winning the auction. “I am so happy and honored.” He added that the $11,000 grapes will go on display at his store for customers to drool over, and will then be given away as samples to a few lucky shoppers.
A few days later, he followed through on his promise and invited people to come to his store for a chance to eat a $370 grape. It’s not clear how the lucky samplers were selected, but the video below shows long queues of people hoping to be called forth for a taste. There were also reporters and photographers present for the big event.