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  • March 14, 2023 3 min read

    Many years ago, in what now seems like another life I was fortunate enough to visit the Iranian city of Shiraz. At the time my destination was Persepolis, the former capital of the Persian empire which was subsequently razed by Alexander the Great. Persian stone columns still bear the scorch marks, proof in some way that the past never leaves us.  The ruins sit a short taxi ride from the bustling city of Shiraz, one of the great trading cities on the Silk Road. For the cultural and history buff, Iran has few peers.  By way of context, when the palaces at Persepolis were in their full majesty, the Celts were still barely getting the hang of building stone forts. 

    shane golden from whelehans wines visits shiraz

    While Persepolis was my destination, if I were to return now, I would spend more time in Shiraz and get more of a handle on its viticultural past. Shiraz sits near the Zagros mountains and according to Prof Patrick McGovern, a renowned expert in this field “Villagers of the Zagros mountains of Iran were making wine ca. 5400 B.C.'' 

    While alcohol is forbidden in Iran, grapes are still grown in the region and exported to other countries for wine to be made there. Well at least according to my taxi driver that is. 

    shane golden from whelehans wines visits shiraz iran

    Is there any connection between the city of Shiraz and the grape? We’re dipping into the pool of myth here but the story goes that French knights returning from the crusades brought back the vine and started to plant it as soon as they landed on home soil in the Rhone.  And so begins our journey west. 

     

    Zoroastrianism was the religion of the Persian empire. Widely regarded as the first great religion to believe in one single God, its influence on Christianity is beyond doubt. The mystics of this philosophy, the magi, were also known for their wine making skills. Wine was used as a substitute for blood in its rituals (Sound familiar?).  As a side note, when reading about this topic I found that there are so many symbolic references in pre-Christianity to the vine that it’s probably no coincidence that in the Bible Jesus is referred to as the “true vine” (John 15:1,5), as a way of differentiating. 

    shane golden from whelehans wines visits shiraz iran

    A little further west we go now to Greece. It is a great irony that Alexander the great, the destructor of Persepolis in the cradle of wine-making country, may himself have died from poisoned wine. One of his heroes growing up was the mythical Dionysus, Greek God of wine and pleasure (they always seem to go hand in hand). According to myth, everywhere Dionysus went he planted the vine and any representation that has survived through the millennia has depicted him with wine in some form. 

    shane golden from whelehans wines visits shiraz iran

    On westwards again and we’re now in Rome. Bacchus was the Roman equivalent of Dionysius and bacchanal is now a byword for debauchery. Not content in doing things by half, the Romans also had another God for wine. While not as widely known to us as Bacchus, Liber Pater was equally as important and was also representative of the idea of free speech. The festival to honour Liber Pater was literally and metaphorically a bacchanalian event and celebrated on that most auspicious of days, the 17th of March. Coincidence? I think not 

    Zoroastrianism still exists. As part of its belief system it recommends moderate drinking, drunkenness is forbidden and the grape is chief amongst all the fruits . For the week that’s in it, I’m largely in agreement.