A Private Tour of the Darioush Winery
by Behrouz Bahmani
October 19, 2004
About 3 years ago, I was searching the web for information
on the Achamaenian king of Persia, Darioush, and came across
the website of the Darioush
Winery. Curious, I went to the site and saw what was
then a few pictures of some mounds of dirt, a bulldozer,
and just the bare framework of a building or two. The claim?
That this would eventually become a restored replica of Persepolis.
I noted the expected date of completion, went to my calendar
and put in a reminder.
And there it lay until this summer when it suddenly awoke
and reminded me to take another look. Recently Jahanshah
Javid and his lovely wife Javaneh (Can we stop with the J's
please!) paid an informal happen chance visit to the winery,
and Jahanshah was so moved by what he saw, even though it
hadn't officially opened, he put together a short photo
essay on it.
I emailed the winery's PR person at the beginning of October
to arrange for access and a possible interview. I was surprised
when Darioush Khaledi the winery's owner called me back and
offered me a full tour that you will now read. For
Video Click Here.
Khaledi was born in Iran and is one of those quiet contemplative
Kords that you have seen before, an intense and ponderous
man. Trained as a civil engineer, he emigrated to the US
and Southern California with his family in 1976, having grown
weary of the corruption and greed of that era, the peak of
the seventies pre-revolution Tehran.
With the help of his brother-in-law Parviz Vazin, they took
what for many would be a huge turn. The bought a small grocery
store. Now they own one of the largest independent supermarket
chains in California, Value Plus.
But Khaledi's passion has always been wine and winemaking.
From the early age of 6 he began by sneaking sips from his
father's home made wines, and in his early adulthood began
collecting fine wines in Iran. Today Khaledi is known as
one of the top wine collectors in the US.
Several years ago he began in earnest to try and realize
his 30 year dream of owning his own winery. He had been to
the Bordeaux region of France on many vacations and wine
hunting trips, and he even looked seriously at a Bordeaux
winery, complete with chateau. But the tax laws in France
were too restrictive. So he began investigating the Napa
Valley option with it's close access to his home in LA. After
3 years of searching for the perfect spot, with the perfect
land and ingredients, after a long negotiation with a feuding
father and son who owned it at the time, he negotiated a
great deal and bought the current winery.
But his work had just begun. The one thing about a 30 year
dream is that you have a long time to think about the details.
And if you ever get the chance to meet Khaledi, you will
see he has the capacity to imagine a lot of them.
First the right grapes had to be planted. Roughly 60% of
Khaledi's grapes never make it to greatness. Moreover the
Darioush grapes are hand picked and collected in 40 pound
baskets and individually sorted with only the best picked
for each wine. As he described the process to me, Khaledi
grabbed a handful of grapes and gave me one to taste. I instantly
tasted the taste of the kind of grapes we used to eat in
Iran. When I told him this, he very barely smiled.
In contrast, other more commercial wineries machine-harvest
the grapes, but more importantly few wineries grow their
own grapes anymore, simply contracting with commercial grape
growers who specialize in a more generic, high volume offering.
The results can be good also, but it doesn't sound or feel
right, and Khaledi will have nothing to do with that style
of wine making. The average cost of managing a vineyard is
around $4,000 per acre per year. Khaledi spends closer to
$16,000 per acre on his wines. State of the art equipment,
the best people in the business, and now a fantasy come true
in his final task of building the most impressive tasting/hospitality/visitor's
It took 3 years for architect Ardeshir Nozari to even come
up with the right plans Khaledi would approve. Then another
3 years would be spent on the construction. The result, a
22,000 square foot visitor's center based on the ancient
city of Persepolis combined with a state of the art winery,
that literally takes your breath away.
Ryan Ruhl one of the hip, cool and more importantly friendly
Darioush winery's Guest Services people explained, "This
is a departure from your average wine tasting room commonly
found in Napa Valley. Although we are open to the public,
your visit to Darioush feels like a personal tour. We take
the time to explain each wine to you in a comfortable setting
and allow you to relax and let the surroundings speak for
I asked Ryan about the structure. He explained how Khaledi
found a quarry just outside of Shiraz near the very ruins
of Persepolis where he bought the massive stones used in
the building. These were carefully carved from a stone known
as Travertine, a cousin of Limestone, very similar in hue
to Marble. The stones were roughly cut in Iran, shipped to
Istanbul where they were shaped further, and then sent on
to Rome where master carvers finished the final shape and
color of each stone according to the design specifications.
You may suspect by now, that Khaledi is a perfectionist.
Unwilling to settle for anything but the best (after all
it's his dream, let him dream digeh!), he embarked on the
ultimate. As he said to me, one of his concerns is how when
he looks at the world around him nowadays, he often "sees
bad or embarrassing stories that mention Iran or Iranians".
This project counters all of that. A large room in the winery
is dedicated to preserving and recording the history of Iran
and Persia, with a proper amount of it devoted to wine and
At this point, I would like make sure we all know that
the Shiraz grape, used in the making of Shiraz wine, also
known as Syrah, is in fact a wine from the Shiraz region
of Iran. and not an Australian invention as has been often
suggested. Just so we're all clear.
Next, Khaledi took me into the winemaking area where master
winemaker Steve Devitt, "The Maestro" was testing
the various batches with a thermometer, a tall beaker, and
my new favorite technical instrument, a wine glass. Steve,
Khaledi, and I proceeded to "test" several of the
foamy red wines directly from the spigots of the large stainless
steel refrigerated holding tanks. These store the grapes,
allowing the juices to mix with the skin of the grapes soaking
in their wonderful burgundy purplish-red color. The juice
is recirculated to the top of the skins 3 times per day for
about 16 to 20 days until, with the help of the right formula
and type of yeast and temperature, the sugar has turned to
alcohol. After that it is ready for preparation for final
storage. Since the process generates a large amount of heat,
refrigeration prevents the juice from turning into vinegar.
We tasted some of the latest and although it was only a
few weeks old, I honestly never tasted better. In 3 years
when it goes on sale, it will be something amazing. We took
another sip of a younger wine that was just a few days old
and I was surprised at the sweetness, even though it was
clearly on it's way to becoming a wine. Needless to say,
I was sad to see it go.
After our visit with Steve, Khaledi took me back into the
winery and we went into an elevator which took us to the
climate controlled cellar and private tasting room. He explained
another difference in his winemaking. The barrels. Each oak
barrel is made new in France. There are no nails or imperfections
to affect the wood and each barrel is only used once, after
which they are sold to other wineries. The private tasting
room is reserved for corporate, hotel, and the high end of
restaurant buyers, and other wine dignitaries who expect
a more formal presentation in order to decide on the wines
they will ultimately choose.
The Darioush winery is currently winding up it's grand opening
celebration during which they hosted 7 events, the last of
which was on October 9th, 2004 a fund raiser for Goli Ameri
(R) who is running for US Congress in Oregon. The events
include fantastic food, traditional persian dance and music,
along with a 16 minute film about Persepolis projected onto
a screen in the outside amphitheater.
You can say that what Khaledi has done is to merely realize
one man's personal dream. To build a beautiful winery for
his own enjoyment. But he has done much more than that. Walking
through the winery, among the towering columns and fountains
of the grounds and seeing what the ancient Kings of Persia
must have seen and felt, you can feel the glory of our culture
and history. You might have known it, but you've never actually
If you have been to Napa Valley before, there is a very
new and important reason to go back again. If you have never
been to Napa Valley, there is no excuse to put it off any
longer. Khaledi has built a Palace away from home. One that
all of us can enjoy.
To learn more about the Darioush winery visit their website: www.darioush.com