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July 3, 2010

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Chongming grapes second to none

CHONGMING County is famous for many agricultural products, but not many people know about its delicious grapes, which are coming on the market this coming week -- and cost less than their Malu cousins. Victoria Fei takes a bite.

Delicious Chongming grapes -- similar to Malu grapes but lower in cost -- are arriving in the market this coming week.

"Grapes in Chongming County are second to none, including Malu grapes from Jiading District, but they cost less," says Wang Xianglin, head of Xinyuan Grape Professional Cooperative, which supplies fruit to the World Expo in Shanghai.

The grapes are known throughout the Yangtze River Delta, but haven't been promoted as well as Malu grapes.

The Chongming fruit is large, red, purple and green, very juicy and sweet and they have a unique taste imparted by the special soil of Chongming Island. They're also organic.

Chongming grapes will go directly to supermarkets and fruit stores in downtown Shanghai, says Wang. The average price will be around 30 yuan (US$4.40) per kilogram.

These days Wang and 50 rural families in his cooperative are spending 12 hours a day bringing in the harvest from almost 67 hectares of vineyards. Annual total yield is more than 1,200 tons from the biggest grape producing area in Chongming.

Wang, 48, moved from Taizhou in Zhejiang Province to Chongming five years ago to build his grape empire in Xinhe Town, a rural area with pure air, clean rivers and no chemicals in grape farming.

"Summer came late this year and only recently did the temperature climb high enough for the grapes to ripen quickly," says Wang, noting the harvest is usually around June 20.

Xinyuan Grape Professional Cooperative has a registered capital of 2.1 million yuan (US$309,865) and specializes in growing and sales.

High productivity is mainly due to educating farmers in free lectures about grape growing.

"While increasing local employment, the cooperative teaches farmers scientific ways to grow grapes and gives them a better life," says Cai Junchun, director of Xinhe Town.

Why Chongming?

Chongming is famous for its agricultural products, but not many people know about its grapes due to lack of promotion in the past.

Wang was looking for a grape production base five years ago and chose Chongming for its virgin land -- he planted his vineyards.

"In terms of grape plantation, Chongming lagged behind because we started late," says Wang. "But I saw good climate, sufficient sunlight and sound soil conditions here for grapes."

More important, he knew that the Changjiang Tunnel-Bridge would be constructed, making logistics easy. It opened last year.

"Even though I had to wait for some years before its completion, the wait was worthwhile," he said.

The environmentally friendly grape cooperative provides classification, packaging, transport, storage and processing.

Wang is optimistic that a grape eco-park will be launched in the future, encouraging people to visit and pick grapes.

Wang started out growing grapes in Zhejiang Province when he was 24. He struggled without proper fertilizer and growing techniques.

"For the first eight years, there was no output, but finally with proper fertilizer and growing techniques I succeeded."

Science and technology led to a successful business and he applied both in Chongming.

Before the opening of the tunnel-bridge last year, grapes could only be transported by ferries and these were canceled or delayed in bad weather, meaning some grapes would spoil.

"Sometimes weather caused great losses -- it really plagued me. But the worst time was when the city was hit by a snowstorm in 2008 and all the vineyards were covered in snow and damaged by frostbite."

Through his hard work, his vineyards survived and flourished.

Wang is hooked on Chongming.

"I've got an apartment in downtown Shanghai," he says, "But I'd rather stay in Chongming with the grapes, the fresh air and the sweet smell of soil."


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