Ringing in Nowruz—Napa Valley-Style
A California winemaker’s story of heritage, craft, and celebration for the Persian New Year.
There’s something about Darioush in Napa Valley that makes it starkly different from its peers. As the first Persian-owned winery in the region, the breathtaking estate presents California wine through a unique cultural and historical lens. This is thanks to founding husband-and-wife team Darioush and Shahpar Khaledi, whose roots run deep through their products’ particular terroir.
“At the winery, we infuse our beliefs in offering warm and gracious hospitality and in sharing our worldly perspectives, from our culinary experiences to the architecture and design,” Darioush tells me. “Finding a way to share the most beautiful aspects of our heritage—[one] that is rich in art, poetry, and wine history—is especially important to us.” With Nowruz—the 13-day feast that marks the arrival of the Persian New Year—starting this weekend, the Khaledis’ dinner table is the place to be for the coming springtime festivities.
The holiday itself is rich in tradition. “Nowruz starts on the spring equinox and represents rebirth and renewal—the overall energy is radiant and positive,” Darioush explains. The holiday is based in ancient Zoroastrian traditions dating back more than 3,000 years; today, the secular feast is celebrated by the Khaledis and millions of others around the world. “We gather with friends and family,” the winemaker explains, “and share traditional recipes, enjoy wine, read poetry, and dance.”
According to Darioush, being with family and loved ones is the most important part of the festivities, but he and Shahpar place serious emphasis on the food and drinks as well. Born and raised in central Iran’s historic city of Shiraz, wine has been a part of his life since long before the pair emigrated from Iran in the late 1970s. They haven’t been back since then, and while he now calls Napa Valley home, the four decades away from his birthplace have been bittersweet.
The winery itself is a year-round ode to Persian culture that has become a beacon of hospitality in California Wine Country. The political unrest surrounding the Iranian Revolution originally brought the couple to the States—Los Angeles, specifically—where Darioush would go on to launch and run a successful local grocery empire. Since then, he and Shahpar have devoted their lives and work to sharing the elements of their homeland they hold dearest.
When asked how the pair have managed to keep their families’ traditions alive over the years, Darioush nods to food and drink. There are many rituals connected to Nowruz, including dressing in new clothing head to toe, coloring eggs, and gifting money to children, but the winemaker’s favorite is the setting of the Haft-Seen. This assortment of seven items, each starting with the letter “S,” represents the natural elements and good omens for the coming year. The objects, which are presented on an ornate table, vary from home to home, though they generally include symbols of spring, such as sabzeh (sprouted grains), and sonbol (hyacinth), as well as dishes like sabzi polo ba mahi—a classic combination of fish and crispy herbed tahdig—and samanu—a sweet, rose-scented pudding.
In Shahpar’s sabzi polo ba mahi recipe, saffron is the star ingredient in both the fried white fish and the rice, and fresh flavors like dill, garlic, scallion, parsley, and bitter orange intermingle on the plate. The Khaledis like to pair this versatile dish with either chardonnay, merlot, or pinot noir; afterwards, they enjoy Shaphar’s samanu with their own Bordeaux-inspired dessert wine, a late-harvest blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon which Darioush named for his wife.
2012 is the most recent vintage of Shahpar, which Darioush produces only “when nature deems it so,” a fitting theme for a celebration of seasonality. While sweet and honeyed, it’s also beautifully earthy and complex, with stone fruit, candied citrus peel, and baking spice notes, and a round and creamy texture. The rich, floral pudding is a phenomenal pairing which accents the wine’s fruity flavors as well as its toasty, oxidative qualities.
For Darioush, wine, family, and tradition are clearly and inextricably linked. “One of my youngest memories was drinking wine from [my father’s] clay vat when I was six years old,” he recalls. Over the years, the younger winemaker’s interest only grew, ultimately blossoming into an obsession that would repeatedly lead him to Bordeaux, where he worked the harvest for a season. It wasn’t long before Shahpar, who had been working in fashion, became an oenophile in her own right. At one point, the pair dreamed of opening a winery in France, but after an anniversary trip to Napa Valley, their vision began to take shape closer to home; they opened the doors to their own California winery in 1998.
Today, the Darioush estate is a striking emblem of the pair’s nostalgia and love for their mother country. This is evident both in its design—inspired by ancient Persepolis—and in an ethos centered around the Persian art of tarof, the etiquette of heightened politeness and graciousness intended to make visitors feel deeply respected and welcome. Whether you’re toasting the new year amongst Darioush’s soaring stone pillars or serving your own guests a bottle of 2012 Shahpar with dessert, you’ll feel it too—and that’s worthy of a celebration all its own.