The Forbidden Fruit: Making wine in Iran

Iran is a country with an ancient history behind it. For a long time our country was known as Persia to many in the Western world, and was first united way back in 625 BCE. At one point, roughly 40% of the global population lived in the ancient Iranian empire of Achaemenid. The history of wine goes back almost as far as the civilizations of Iran. The first wines ever fermented supposedly took place in the regions near the Caucasus and Zagros mountains in the northern and western regions of Iran. There is evidence of wine being made in Iran over 7,000 years ago. But sadly, Iran is suffering a religious dictatorship under the Supreme Leader where wine and other alcoholic beverages are forbidden and punishable by Islamic rules.

I was born after the 1979 revolution, but was raised during the long 8-year Iraq-Iran War. I have never seen any bars, clubs, or discotechs in my life. I have never been to a restaurant that serves good bottles of international wine with a meal. I have never opened a good and expensive bottle of wine for my date in my house. But I have a heart for wine just the way my ancestors did. And so, I started to ferment crushed grapes in 2012. I do both a red and white each year, buying grapes from a local market here in the Kurdistan province of Iran. Also ciders and fruit wines are very appealing to me as well.

This is a true story that had taken place a few years back. That year, due to a good growing year and perfect harvest conditions, I managed to make an excellent vintage of red wine. It was so good that every person who was in contact with me wanted to drink a glass of it. I hope everyone reading this has had that kind of vintage before . . . the one where everything went right for a change. From finding the perfect lot of grapes, to the perfect crush and ferment. Press went smoothly and everything came together in both flavor and aroma profiles.

I have never been in a restaurant that serves good bottles of international wine with a meal.

The following spring a good friend of mine got married. It was a beautiful spring day and he called me on the phone to ask me to bring a few bottles of that perfect red wine for his special day. I was thrilled. He meant a lot to me and this seemed like the perfect gift. I took ten bottles of that wine with me to share with friends and family. Drinking in weddings is not common here in Iran. Only some youngsters or un-religious folks would ever think about drinking. I even had to place the bottles in a hidden spot in my car just in case I got pulled over by Islamic police.

A quality wine deserves a quality label. Hossein won Honorable Mention for his Red Moon label in the 2020 WineMaker Label Contest. Photo by Hossein Zangeneh

At the wedding we had a good time, drinking, dancing, and of course eating a lot of food. To make a long story short, around midnight, a couple of those people who were tipsy and joyful stepped out front for smokes (remember we’re not experienced drinkers here). At the same time a police car was passing by. They noticed the strange behavior of the smokers immediately. Therefore they started questioning them whether they were drinking or not. Of course their breath smelled like alcohol. The police called the station and asked for more police forces to come. Just like the movies where they raid a criminal’s house — they lined us up against the walls and examined us by breathalyzers. Those who had drinks were taken into custody. The next day a judge issued 100 lashes for each one of us and a cash fine.

So my advice to you — if you ever find yourself in Iran at a party with wine available — make sure the smokers go out back.