Savoring the Taste of Rashmiri Grapes

In the picturesque mountains of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) grows a grape unlike any other in the world, a precious gem among the vines: the Rashmiri grape. This distincti

Savoring the Taste of Rashmiri Grapes
October 21, 2023

In the picturesque mountains of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) grows a grape unlike any other in the world, a precious gem among the vines: the Rashmiri grape. This distinctive black Kurdish grape stands apart from all others, carrying with it the spirit of a people who have worked their lands for generations, shaping their dreams into fruitful harvests. It is a story that has long awaited a global audience and a tale that promises to captivate the palates of the world.

In the heart of Sharbazher, a northern district of Sulaymaniyah Governorate, a visionary farmer named Abdulkarim Mustafa Abdullah tends to his vines. Abdulkarim, a hardworking soul, represents the beating heart of a region where agriculture is both a way of life and an enduring tradition passed down through generations.

He shares his dream with a twinkle in his eye, “Once in the fruit market in Sulaymaniyah, I challenged anyone to bring me a grape as beautiful and fine as mine, and I would give him $10,000. One of my dreams is to deliver my products to world markets, which will benefit not only me but also our country.”

His dream resonates with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which has been tirelessly working to find international markets for its agricultural treasures. In 2022, the pomegranate products of Halabja and Zakho were exported to the UAE for the first time. In 2023, Kurdistan’s renowned potatoes found their way to the UAE and other Gulf countries, delighting international food brands with their exceptional quality.

A dedicated Kurdish farmer diligently tending to his vineyard

Environmental challenges

Abdulkarim’s journey is not one paved by modern machinery or technological shortcuts. It is a story of persistence, manual labor, and a profound connection to the land. “Every year in the spring, we cut our vines, harvest, and hire workers. My vineyard is 30 acres, so it needs more people. After that, we clean our fields and plow them. Since our area is mountainous, we still use animals to plow. Most of our work is manual, in other words. We use less equipment because of the location of our fields.”

The journey of Rashmiri grapes from bud to fruition is a seasonal spectacle. Abdulkarim explains, “Our crops ripen in the summer and in early August. Then we start harvesting and selling our crops. The grapes grown in the high mountains ripen in early September. However, there are some special grape varieties that ripen later. The black grapes, which are very famous and very good, ripen in October.”

Climate change has posed challenges in the KRI, as it has worldwide, impacting the region's weather patterns and harvest cycles. “Production has decreased over the past two years due to late cold and early rains,” the Kurdish farmer explained.

“Despite the problem of irregular seasons, we produced 40 tons of grapes last year. We sold 25 tons to private markets and shops. We will store the other 15 tons after turning them into raisins and other consumable products,” he states.

Untapped potential 

The vineyards are located in mountains where the highest annual temperature reaches 35°C. With proper support and investment, Abdulkarim believes that production can be increased significantly. “When I started in 1997, it was a small vineyard. Every year, it grows, and the vines become more productive, so in the coming years, we will improve our production. 

Local markets are already enchanted by the exquisite taste and freshness of Rashmiri grapes. Abdulkarim affirms, “We sell our products locally because they are very special and we produce them well, and because they reach markets quickly and freshly, so we have a special market and customers.”

Recently, KRG Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, Begard Talabani, recognized Abdulkarim as an “exemplary farmer” and pledged to support his aspirations.

What sets Rashmiri grapes apart is the unique climate and soil in the KRI. “Because of the climate and the fertility of the soil, the varieties of grapes are very good,” Abdulkarim proudly states. “For example, Rashmiri grapes are different from the grapes of other countries in terms of taste and composition. Rashmiri grapes are famous in the Sharbazher area, and we can say that this type of grape is only available in Kurdistan, and its identity is Kurdish.”

The potential of Rashmiri grapes is immense, yet untapped. If these exceptional grapes were to find their way to international markets, their reputation would undoubtedly soar. Abdulkarim envisions a brighter future, saying, “If this road is opened, we will be able to export at least one ton of such grapes daily from our village alone.”

But he has an even bigger dream – a juice factory. “Come and take advantage of this product and set up a private factory for it,” Abdulkarim passionately appeals to foreign investors. With a factory, grape production could surge to new heights.

Kurdistan's Rashmiri grapes stand out for their exceptional taste and are a testament to the region's agricultural prowess. With distinctive flavors nurtured by the area’s unique climate and soil, they have the potential to become a global sensation when given the support and recognition they deserve. The future of Rashmiri grapes will be interesting to follow, with real promise to captivate the palates of people from every corner of the world.

Nasih Ali Khayat is a renowned photojournalist and recipient of multiple international awards.

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