Image: Handful of new Ruby Roman grapes
AP
A handful of new Ruby Roman grapes is displayed at a fruit market in Ishikawa prefecture, Japan.
updated 8/11/2008 9:38:32 AM ET 2008-08-11T13:38:32

A new variety of premium grapes debuted in Japan on Monday, with a single bunch fetching as much as 100,000 yen ($910).

A Japanese hotel manager paid that amount, or about 2,860 yen ($26) per grape, for a 1 1/2 pound (700-gram) bunch of the Ruby Roman grapes to serve guests at an upscale hotel, officials said.

“We believe the price was probably a record high,” said local agricultural official Hirofumi Isu. “They’re delicious — sweet but fresh at the same time, very well balanced.”

The tomato-colored grapes made their debut at an auction in Japan’s northwestern Ishikawa prefecture, where they have been under development since 1994 in a state-led project.

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The bunch that fetched the top price had about 35 grapes, each slightly smaller than a pingpong ball, Isu said.

The average price for the Ruby Roman grapes at Monday’s auction was about 27,000 yen ($245) a bunch.

Isu said local farmers hope to sell 1,500 bunches, or 1 ton, of the grapes by mid-September.

Fruit is generally expensive in Japan, and people often buy grapes, peaches and melons as luxury gifts. Japanese are often willing to pay top prices for high-end fruits, especially for the prestige of owning the very first ones of the year.

Monday’s prices far exceeded those for the most popular premium variety, Muscat of Alexandria, which sell for as much as $90 (10,000 yen) a bunch at Tokyo’s Ota fruit market, the country’s largest, according to Koichi Kato, an official at fruit wholesaler Tokyo Seika Co.

“It could be a congratulatory price for its debut,” Kato said of Monday’s auction in Ishikawa. “Tokyo’s largest fruit market is very competitive.”

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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