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A Private Tour of the Darioush Winery
by Behrouz Bahmani
October 19, 2004
iranian.com

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 center.

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 itself."

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 winemaking.

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 felt it.

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

 

 

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