“As a child growing up in Persia I heard the story of the discovery of wine,” says Pari Azari, “but it is also documented in my Persian cookbook. In fact Omar Khayyám referred to the story in some of his poetry.” Kamal Azari, Pari’s husband and co-owner of Azari Winery, nods in appreciation as he listens to his wife. “Yes, it is this story, plus the fact that I was born in Shiraz, the ancient city in Persia thought to be the birthplace of the syrah grape, that inspired us to start our winery.”
Pari then proceeded to tell the fascinating story of a Persian King who was sitting on the palace balcony one day with his son and fellow nobles. Suddenly a Homa Bird (considered to be the bird of good fortune by Persians) landed not far away and was set upon by a large snake which coiled itself around the bird’s neck. The king called upon his nobles to rescue the bird and the king’s son immediately jumped to his feet and shot an arrow into the snake without harming the bird. The bird flew away, but one year later on the exact anniversary of the snake attack the bird returned and dropped three small seeds at the feet of the king and his son.
The king ordered that the seeds be planted in the palace garden and eventually they grew into vines that produced beautiful bunches of small red fruit. As no one in the palace had ever seen this type of fruit, they were afraid to try it. Therefore, the king ordered that the bunches be harvested and placed in large stone vessels. Not long after strange bubbling noises came from the vessels along with an intoxicating aroma. The king called for a murderer who was sentenced to death to be brought from prison to taste the liquid. The murderer drank one glass, then asked for more. Soon he began smiling and dancing and the king realized the Huma Bird had brought them a great gift. Therefore, he held a feast of celebration and introduced wine to the world.
Today Pari and Kamal operate Azari Winery located in the Petaluma Gap region of Sonoma County. “We fell in love with the landscape here,” explains Kamal. “Furthermore, I wanted to make cool-climate syrah and this is one of the best appellations in California to do this.” In addition to syrah, Azari Winery also produces pinot noir, a riesling, and a second label called Corkscrew.
With a doctorate in political science and a background in Iranian studies Kamal has always been interested in the ancient legends of Persian as well as poetry. “In Iran, poetry is very important, and many of the great Persian poets wrote about wine. In pre-Islamic time wine was a holy drink with mystical powers and most Persian prophets used wine as a way to connect with heaven.”
“The challenge,” chimes in Pari,” is that because wine in Persia was holy it was never paired with food. Therefore, I have been trying to match Persian recipes with our wine.” One such recipe that has been garnering many compliments from guests is Pari’s Duck with Pomegrante Sauce paired with Azari Pinot Noir.
“Her cooking is like poetry,” says Kamal. “As you can see, poetry, legends, and wine are very important to us.” Indeed, this must be the case because on every single bottle of Azari Wine the following statement is inscribed: “Our approach to winemaking follows a few basic principles: the land has character, nature is wise, and our job is to listen carefully, then write the poem.”
For more information on Azari Winery, please see http://www.azarivineyard.com/. To learn more about the Petaluma Gap, including other wineries and vineyards, see http://www.petalumagap.com/. Photo by Smari.