Is there such a thing as a perfect bunch of grapes?
Japanese grape growers believe so and invest immense amounts of time, effort and skill to produce it.
Premium quality Kyoho grapes (lit: giant mountain grapes) are popular in Japan with the dissipating heat of late Summer and early Fall.
The variety produces bunches of table grapes which carry exceedingly large and deeply colored berries. They have a deliciously desirable appearance and are intensely sweet in taste.
The Kyoho grape variety is a cross between the American Ishiharawase and European Centennial varieties and were first cultivated in Japan in 1937 specifically for the requirements of the Japanese consumers.
According to expert Japanese grape growers, the perfect bunch of Kyoho grapes consists of 30 to 35 evenly spaced berries. Each grape should weigh around 12 grams and form a bunch of 400 to 450 grams in total. Depending on the target market and growing conditions, farmers also grow smaller perfect bunches of between 20 and 30 grapes totaling 300 to 400 grams.
Bunches of extremely large, unblemished and richly colored berries, should have even spacial arrangement around the stalk. Bunches should also have suitable aeration between berries and a balanced overall shape. This includes a somewhat rounded top and bottom.
The sweetest Kyoho grapes contain large, fully developed seeds and are generally eaten after separation from their thick, relatively bitter outer skins. Seedless varieties of Kyoho grapes are gaining consumer attention as their quality improves, but so far, generally tend to lack the same levels of natural sweetening sugars.
Achieving great looking and tasting bunches of grapes for markets and consumers is no simple task. It requires immense experience and technique on the part of growers.
Left alone, Kyoho grape vines normally grow volumes of elongated bunches which are up to double the required weight. Unfortunately, such bunches also have small, poor quality grapes with relatively little sweetness.
The careful sculpturing of vines from their time of initial planting, as well as the crafting of individual bunches of grapes produced year on year, requires a dedicated and almost artistic touch by growers in order to achieve marketable quality.
The production of a premium grape crop begins years in advance of first production.
Grape farmers begin by planting, pruning and training vines along sturdy overhead trellises. The netted trellises allow for suitable access to the crops for future servicing and harvests from below and help protect produce from intruders, birds and other pests. Specific pruning techniques ensure the vine grows in an optimum way over the trellises and ensures direct lines of flow of nutrient from roots to developing fruit.
Once in production, continued pruning of vines and branches helps improve the quality of production.
A high proportion of the early developing grape bunches are cut away from the vines so nutrient and sugars can be focused within premium quality bunches. This improves the size and sweetness of the ripened berries.
Upon initial signs of ripening in mid Summer, developing bunches considered suitable for market are often trimmed of their upper grapes to give the desired round shape.
Thousands of bunches at a time are then individually and painstakingly enclosed in loosely sealed white paper bags to protect the grapes from sunburn, pests and other causes of skin blemish. The bags also offer a degree of protection from the lashing wind and rain from frequent late Summer storms and typhoons.
At a time when the grower believes bunches are close to a fully ripened state, the paper bags are individually opened and the grapes carefully inspected. Only perfectly ripened bunches are selected for harvest on any one day. If suitable, grape bunches are cut, packed and transported to market for fresh, just in time delivery to supermarkets.
Kyoho grapes are presented in a way which is visually appealing on shop shelves. Individually wrapped bunches of grapes look neat, tidy and fresh for shoppers.
A standard single bunch of Kyoho grapes typically attracts a price tag of around Yen 800 on supermarket shelves and significantly more if the bunches are gift wrapped for Japanese gift giving purposes.
It is a small price to pay for produce which has been pampered into perfection!