As the sun began to rise and shine its rays of warmth on the hot southern coast of Iran, a Range Rover started to drive towards the cooler areas of the country before the heat started to accumulate. In the backseat with his sleeping bag was a young civil engineer, Darioush Khaledi, who had started a construction business with two of his classmates from Tehran Polytechnic. Darioush had two drivers tag teaming to continually drive him to their over 20 construction sites around Iran, the sleeping bag was for the few cat naps he could catch here and there between the longer drives. It was an exciting time for these young engineers as they went from their first government contract for $100,000 to eventually $500 million in a matter of eight years.
After eight years of never taking a real break from his construction business, Darioush’s wife was able to get him to travel with her to California to visit her sister in Redondo Beach, Los Angeles. All it took was experiencing the breathtaking sunset at one of the oceanfront restaurants to instantly fall in love and Darioush was determined for he and his wife to buy a house in Los Angeles and find a path to American citizenship. Back then, one could get a green card by starting a business so Darioush took some of the money coming in from his construction business and bought a grocery store in Los Angeles so he and his wife could start their journey to becoming American citizens while traveling back and forth for a couple years between Iran and California.
For a few years Darioush and his wife lived the life of traveling back and forth between Iran and California until 1978 when the Islamic Revolution took over Iran and he had everything taken away. Darioush lost his company, his real estate holdings and all his money and so he had to start from zero again. He knew that for him to make a decent living in the grocery business he would have to buy more stores and build a chain of them within Southern California. The high interest rates in the early 1980s in the U.S. created a situation for Darioush where his profits couldn’t cover his payments on his loans so he had to sell a store here or there just to keep up with the payments; at one point a friend suggested he sell his whole grocery business, KV Mart, as it just seemed too much work to keep his head above water but Darioush noted “the word quit is not in my vocabulary.” Through time he created the largest family-owned grocery business in California.
But along the way a particular passion called to Darioush, one that was rooted in a memory of him at six years old sucking on a towel that was dipped in the wine his father made at their home in Iran. And that love of wine continued throughout his life with many trips to Bordeaux with his wife as Darioush was mesmerized by wine producers talking about the sense of place, terroir, of their wine. At first Darioush and his wife wanted to buy a château in Bordeaux as they loved the wines, the community and place but a trip to Napa Valley changed all of that.
Darioush and his wife, Shahpar, decided to celebrate a wedding anniversary in Napa Valley and they were completely taken with the natural beauty as well as with the wines but preferred those made in the cooler climates of Napa Valley. It dawned on both of them that it made more sense to buy vineyards and a winery in Napa which was a lot closer to their home in Los Angeles than an estate in Bordeaux, but they took a few years to get to know Napa and the landscape of the various micro-climates and varying aspects that influence different expressions of Napa Valley wine.
They ended up buying an estate a half mile south of the Stags Leap District on the Silverado Trail, the southern section of Napa, since it is cooler in climate (which was against the conventional wisdom of the 1990s) and they were able to establish the Darioush winery in 1997. When it comes to the name of the wines, Darioush says that everyone assumes that he named his winery after himself but it actually pays tribute to the Persian King Darioush, also known as Darius I, who constructed many monuments throughout the First Persian Empire around 2,600 years ago that displayed the incredible artistry and craftsmanship of the Persian people. One of King Darius I’s projects was the five palaces that were built in Persepolis, today the ruins are a World Heritage Site, and Persepolis is the inspiration for the Darioush winery that was eventually built.
As Darioush explained, hospitality is deeply rooted in the Persian culture and from the very beginning, even when they only had a double wide trailer as a tasting room, his wife decorated it with such exquisite Persian décor that many people forgot they were in a trailer. Through time he has built a stunning visitor’s center that includes many stone carved pillars that transports one back to ancient Persian times and although it is a destination grandiose winery on the top of many people’s lists as a must-see to visit, the hospitality is just as warm and inviting as if one was visiting a good friend’s home; as that is what it means to be Persian to Darioush and his wife Shahpar, to welcome people with generosity in their soul and love in their heart.
Inspired by Opportunity for All
Darioush explained that there have been three times in his life when he has had to start from scratch and he hopes that this is the last time; such a statement begs the question of how he kept going on. He simply said that he is inspired by the people around him and that his job as chairman and CEO of KV Mart, his successful grocery chain, mainly involves recruiting and retaining good people. For him to see a worker start from the bottom, who is an immigrant who cannot speak English, to then send him to night school to learn English and then college to eventually one day give a speech in front of thousands of people as vice president of the company is more valuable than money to him. Also, he proudly noted that most of his management positions for his winery are mainly held by people who started from the bottom. Helping his employees reach their potential as well as giving back to the communities where his grocery stores are located as well as helping Napa Valley’s most venerable population have become important missions for him as he himself is grateful for what America has given him.
Learning about Darioush’s story is even more poignant during these times as many have seen the images of the Afghan people begging to be taken by U.S. soldiers as America started to leave Afghanistan recently. One such tragedy happened early on when the initial evacuations were chaotic as a young Afghanistan soccer player trying to jump on a departing U.S. military plane ultimately fell to his death. His dream was to bring Afghanistan to the national stage when it came to soccer and as the Taliban (an extremist Islamist religious and military organization) started to completely take over Afghanistan again after 20 years, that dream was being crushed – any dream that involved celebrating Afghan culture and values freely was completely crushed that day in Afghanistan itself. Those images of Americans leaving Afghanistan are heartbreaking as everyone cannot be saved and so many around the world suffer under circumstances that an American who was born and bred in the U.S. will never be able to completely comprehend.
But Darioush knows all too well how special America is and if he and his wife were trapped in Iran after the revolution, their lives would have been drastically different. But in the U.S., Darioush can introduce people to the beautiful Persian country and way of life that existed for thousands of years, before a repressive government came in, that involves 7,000 years of wine culture and the famous wine region of Shiraz (many of the stones that built Darioush were imported from quarries near Shiraz) in Iran which had 300 wineries there until the Islamic Revolution in 1979 made alcohol illegal. Today his highly-acclaimed Darioush wines and certainly the pinnacle of them, Darius II, are expressions of the great combination of an immigrant like himself being able to keep his precious culture alive because of the freedom and diversity that exists in America.
In one of the rooms at the Darioush winery there is a picture of Darioush Khaledi wearing an Ellis Island Medal of Honor that he received in 2008 that pays tribute to those immigrants who not only achieve great success in the U.S. but who are great examples of sharing their culture and adding to the rich tapestry of American life. He remembers that day like it was yesterday, as he stood there waiting to receive his medal with all branches of the American military present as the American anthem played celebrating all who were being honored that day and he was overwhelmed with the idea that such a great country would welcome an immigrant like him who lost everything at one time and all he had were “ideas in his head and a heart filled with hope”; he, in return, has been a part of adding to the greatness of America with his own immigrant story.
***This article was originally published on Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2021/09/24/a-napa-valley-wine-homage-to-ancient-persia-by-an-immigrant-from-iran/
Darioush had a partnership with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in conjunction with the opening of the museum’s expansive new exhibition, Epic Iran. Darioush served as a sponsor of the exhibit, which was open to the public on Saturday, May 29 and ran through Tuesday, September 21, and displayed 5,000 years of Iranian art, design and culture, bringing together over 300 objects from ancient Islamic and contemporary Iran. One of just the many ways Darioush is keeping their roots alive as well as enhancing the world with Iranian art, design and culture.
2020 Darioush Signature Viognier, Napa Valley, California: 100% Viognier coming from cooler vineyard sites from the Darioush estate and Oak Knoll. Floral nose with orange blossom and jasmine that has pineapple and juicy mango on the palate with some hints of ginger and fresh acidity balancing it out.
2017 Darioush Signature Shiraz, Napa Valley, California: 100% Shiraz from cooler vineyard sites from the Darioush estate and Oak Knoll. The decision to use the term ‘Shiraz’ over Syrah pays homage to their most well-known wine region in Iran. A good amount of weight on the body with bright blackberry fruit and hints of earth, cedar box and tobacco leaf with a long expressive finish of rich espresso notes.
2018 Darioush Signature Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from cooler Napa vineyards on the Darioush Estate as well as in Mount Veeder and Coombsville. This was the first vintage where it was 100% Cabernet Sauvignon as they were really happy with the Cab in 2018. Complex nose of pencil lead, cocoa dust and gravelly earth that has blackcurrant fruit and fresh herbs on the palate that was finely structured with an intense energy.
2016 Darioush ‘Darius II’ Napa Valley, California: 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc sourced from their Sage Vineyard in Mt Veeder, their Apadana Block on Darioush Estate as well as in Pritchard Hill, Spring Mountain and Howell Mountain – all sites known for elegant fruit and higher retained acidity. It is best to decant this wine for at least two hours if one decides to drink it now as it takes a couple hours to open up. Enticing aromas that were multi-layered with smoldering cigar, blueberry scones, truffles and hints of asphalt that has rich red and black fruit on the palate that has silky tannins with a very long aromatic finish that left hints of lit incense lingering in one’s head; outstanding wine. Each vintage of Darius II has a different label that represents a different artistic Persian piece.