Meet the Family Who Brought Persian Winemaking Culture to Napa Valley
The history of wine is long and labyrinthine, spanning centuries and winding its way across borders and around the globe. Often, the Old World heavy-hitters like France and Italy are looked to as the birthplaces of all things vinous, but we can't overlook the world's very first signs of winemaking in areas like the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia — known as the "cradle of wine" thanks to evidence of production dating back to 6,000 BCE — or modern-day Iran's Zagros Mountains, where we know it to have been produced as early as 5,000 BCE.
Wine culture in this sliver of the world is, of course, deeply ingrained in everyday life despite the trade's tumultuous political past. In Iran, the Islamic Revolution decimated the country's viticultural industry as one of the many devastating effects on the country's economy and society in the wake of the uprising. The upheaval led Darioush Khaledi, a successful civil engineer at the time, and his wife Shahpar to seek refuge in Los Angeles, where they began to rebuild their lives after losing everything they'd worked for in their home country.
In the years that followed, Darioush worked to rebuild a life for himself and Shahpar, this time in the retail sector in which he would go on to grow his family-owned business into a multimillion-dollar chain of grocery stores throughout the Los Angeles area. But a childhood memory of tasting his father's homemade wine, which ultimately led to a lifelong passion, motivated Darioush to pursue a new career in Napa Valley, where he and Shahpar opened their own winery in 1997.
"Born and raised in Iran, I was always inspired by the rich wine culture in Iran and Shiraz," Darioush tells me. After growing up around his father's love for winemaking, he began to take interest in French wines. "I traveled to Bordeaux often from Iran and even worked a harvest — I quickly became obsessed, and since then, I've remained very passionate about wine [and have] been an avid collector of Bordeaux for a long time," he adds. Shahpar, who previously held a career in the fashion industry, also became a fan of Bordeaux blends and varietals, and the two shared a dream of opening a winery in the region, but an anniversary trip to Napa changed everything (the proximity to Los Angeles, in contrast to Bordeaux, didn't hurt either).
Today, Darioush is one of southern Napa Valley's most impressive wineries in more ways than one. Visually speaking, the ancient Persepolis-inspired estate is nothing short of breathtaking, with a series of stone pillars welcoming visitors to the couple's awe-inspiring ode to Persian culture. The wines themselves are largely big, beautiful, Bordeaux-inspired reds with a distinctly Californian flourish, a juxtaposition of wine's millennia in Iran and France and a modernized take on its production.
Since leaving Iran, Darioush shares, he and Shahpar have not had the opportunity to return, but the warmth and graciousness of Persian culture has remained with the couple and serves as a cornerstone of their winery experience. As they celebrate Nowruz this week, the Persian New Year, observed on the vernal equinox and 13 days that follow, it's easy to imagine that the Khaledi family's feasts and gatherings are rather unforgettable in terms of flavors and hospitality. The pair tells stories of gathering with friends and family around the dinner table ("Being with loved ones is the most important aspect of Nowruz for us," says Darioush) and of traditions like serving dishes representing good omens in the new year to come. This holiday, which symbolizes rebirth and renewal, seems a fitting time to honor this couple's long journey here.
The Khaledis' impact on local culture, Darioush shares, is not taken lightly, especially in an area of the world that few from the Persian diaspora call home. "I continue to strive to create the most exemplary wines from Napa Valley, and the world, from our estate vineyards and neighboring sites — I believe that pursuit will continue to propel Darioush forward for generations to come," he says. "As for my legacy, I think I'll be remembered as an innovator and a risk-taker, and as someone who cares deeply for his community, leaving Napa Valley behind with a greater sense of hospitality, style, and exoticism than came before."
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