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New Wines, New Faces: Napa Cabernet by Way of Persia

Tim Fish
Posted: May 11, 2001

Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhône are the wine regions that usually inspire Napa Valley vintners. Winery owner Darioush Khaledi would add Persia to that list.

"They've been making wine there for 7,000 years," said Khaledi, who immigrated to the United States from Iran in 1976, three years before the Islamic revolution.

Darioush Winery is, in a way, a tribute to Khaledi's homeland. Khaledi bought the former Altamura winery on Silverado Trail in 1997 and is now expanding the facility, creating an elaborate 17,000-square-foot winery with a design inspired by Persepolis, an ancient Persian city founded by Khaledi's namesake, Darius I, the first king of Persia.

When it comes to winemaking, however, Darioush follows more familiar models: Napa and France. Chardonnay dominates production, followed by Viognier and Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot. The wines balance Bordeaux-like elegance with rich California ripeness. The Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Signature 1997 (92 points, $54, 600 cases) is seductive and stylish, with rich vanilla, mocha, plum notes woven together with supple tannins.

Khaledi grew up in Iran's Shiraz region, where wine grapes grew in abundance until the Islamic revolution and its hard line against alcohol put an end to Iran's wine industry. His father made wine as a hobby, and as a 6-year-old, Khaledi used to sneak sips from the barrel. As he got older, his interest in wine also matured, and he went on to become an avid collector of Bordeaux.

An engineer in Iran, Khaledi switched careers in the United States and became a successful businessman, opening a chain of California stores that include Top Valu Markets and Valu Plus Food Warehouse.

Interested in buying a winery, Khaledi first looked to Bordeaux and was in escrow to buy Château Loudenne, but when the deal fell through, he turned to Napa Valley instead.

He searched three years before finding the Altamura property, whose building and vineyards became available when Frank and Karen Altamura decided to relocate to nearby Wooden Valley.

The estate comprises about 39 acres of vineyards, located just outside the Stags Leap District. Darioush winemaker Steve Devitt describes the area as slightly cooler than Stags Leap, due in part to the marine influence of San Pablo Bay to the south. The winery also has contracts on another 11 acres on Howell Mountain, Mt. Veeder, Atlas Peak and Diamond Mountain.

Devitt, formerly with Signorello Vineyards, does most of his winemaking in the vineyard, preferring a hands-off attitude in the winery. "We're really concentrating on the idea of wine-growing," Devitt says.

Devitt is already outgrowing the original winery, which is stacked to the beams with barrels. The winery produced about 6,500 cases of wine this year and that will expand to 13,000 cases in the next two vintages. The new facility, which will be built in stages in the next three years, will be as ornate as an ancient temple, done with tall columns and imported limestone.

"That's the great thing about the United States," Khaledi says, after discussing his plans for the new winery. "You can be a good citizen and still be true to your heritage, to your culture. It's probably the only country in the world where that can happen."

Darioush Winery
Address: 4240 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558
Telephone: (707) 257-2345
Web site: www.dkwinery.com

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Read past New Wines, New Faces reports:

  • April 20, 2001
    New Wines, New Faces: Helen Turley's New Napa Cabernet

  • April 6, 2001
    New Wines, New Faces: Downtown Napa's Vin de Garage
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