Darioush Winery is a visually intriguing looking winery specializing in premium wines. It was founded in 1997 by Iranian born, Darioush Khaledi and his wife Shahpar. Darioush made an intense global multi-year search for an ideal vineyard site before settling in the southern part of the Napa Valley. Darioush’s father was a hobby wine maker and during his formative years he grew up around wine (well prior to the Islamic revolution in 1979).
After immigrating to the USA in 1976 (without yet being able to speak English), over time he built up one of the most successful independently operated grocery store chains in the USA. Incidentally, his first purchase was the Top Valu Market near Torrance. From just one store to a regional chain – today several stores mostly in the Los Angeles area operate under the name Amar Ranch Market, Buy Low Markets, Top Valu Markets and Valu Mart Food Warehouse.
Darioush Winery and hospitality center dates from 2004. And a bit of interesting Napa trivia: the site of Darioush Winery used to be Altamura Winery and Vineyards. This property is 33 acres and along with the winery and hospitality buildings, it is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. But Darioush owns two other vineyards including the nearby Ashley Vineyard in the Oak Knoll District and the 22-acre Sage Vineyard high on the slopes of Mt. Veeder.
Besides coming for the wine, this is a destination winery where visitors often stop in for reasons other then wine (one of only a few “destination wineries” along the Silverado Trail). At the entrance, guests drive past metal gates which are always open during their normal operating hours. Proceed down a very long narrow road passing water bubbling up in the grass median before arriving at the winery.
In the prestigious tradition of Opus One, at this point visitors need to choose to park on either the left or the right side of the parking lot – just like at Opus One over the years we notice most people park on the right side of the parking lot. If its raining courtesy umbrellas located under a larger umbrella are available for visitors to use between the parking lot and the winery.
And guests often stop to take photos in front of the faux columns and fountains. The fountains and reflecting pools are impressive above ground, but equally as impressive is what is below the pools to keep the fountains flowing and maintained. Jim Wilder, owner of Pond and Fountain Pros installed the various plumbing and intricate web of equipment for these fountains. He told us the internal plumbing architecture is significant to maintain that the ponds are always filled to the same levels, the 10 fountain jets all shoot up to the exact height, and so the inner chlorinated pools do not mix with the outer water which contains koi and various aquatic plants.
Walking up to this winery is like walking onto a Hollywood set. This modern building “looks old” as it takes its historical influences from the ancient great Persian city of Persepolis (located about an hour’s drive outside of Shiraz in Iran). Many stately looking columns supporting nothing but air greet guests at the main entrance. A concierge is usually located inside ready to welcome arriving guest. Sometimes on busy summer weekends, the concierge will setup a greeting station directly outside the main entrance doors.
As you saunter in to the main room you may well see chic well-dressed men and women lounging at the nearly 360 degree square wine counter. If they look up at your entrance, they are merely looking to validate that you are one of them. If they don’t look up, they are too into their wine and this is a better sign. If tasting in the winter, enjoy a seat in front of the blazing fireplace. The fireplace’s headstone, appropriately rests on the heads of two metal men and contains what appear to be ancient hieroglyphic writings. Ask one of the hosts at the wine counter to translate these inscriptions for you.
A number of couches and coves are located throughout the tasting room area often used by small groups of people enjoy a more intimate tasting. These sit down spaces are available by reservation only with the last seating at 330pm. The tasting counter is rather unique; it looks like a broken windshield but is actually composed of several layers of glass with the broken glass being the bottom layer.
A wine tasting includes at least one white, a red or two, and their signature Cabernet Sauvignon. What sets this winery apart from other wineries other than the very unique architecture are their unique tastings (all by appointment). Darioush has a distinctive partnership with Marin County’s, Cowgirl Creamery. On Darioush’s 90-minute tour and tasting called Fine Wines, Artisan Cheeses, guests are treated to hard-to-find limited production cheeses from family farms, and special winery release and library wines which are not available outside of the winery. This tour and tasting is offered once a day at 2pm.
Another very exclusive event is Darioush’s “By Invitation Only” event. This is offered only on the weekends (once each day) and appeals to serious wine enthusiasts. It is a two hour experience in which guests try wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy as well as their Signature series wines. This is a rare opportunity at a Napa Valley based winery to actually taste wines from some of France’s top producers.
Two outdoor spots worth noting are the amphitheater which is ideal for small intimate performances (seating a maximum of about 180 people). And a special space is setup in the vineyard just north of the winery for private tastings – this is a beautiful spot in summer as the space is entirely surrounded by vines.
During one of our earlier visits, we tasted through their flight of current releases (Portfolio Tasting). Several are listed here. The 2008 Darioush Viognier has a pleasing bouquet showcasing well integrated flavors including notes of pear, red apple and citrus blossom. The palate is slightly creamy with a nice weight that carries from start to finish. The finish is fairly long.
The 2006 Darioush Signature Merlot (blended with 5% Cabernet Franc) shows some notes of cigar smoke and blackberry in the glass with a somewhat soft entry but a surprisingly intense long finish (all fruit). The 2006 Duel (60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Shiraz) has a nice bouquet that is somewhat spicy but reveals more fruit as it breathes. Sour plum and cherry show on the palate with dusty tannins anchoring the finish.
The 2006 Darioush Signature Cabernet Sauvignon is a fairly dark wine in the glass with flavors of blueberry and blackberry. Like the Merlot this wine also shows intense fruit. Darioush also produces a 100% varietal Cabernet Franc. The bouquet on the 2006 Darioush Cabernet Franc is the most elegant of any of their wines we tried – the palate is clean with notes of blueberry and red cherry leading to a clean lingering finish. A beautiful showing.
Darioush has a well stocked the interior space surrounding their tasting bar with a variety of unique decorative and useful treasures. Also select wine related books are for sale. For more information or to join their membership club, visit: www.darioush.com
NOTE: this review has been identified as needing an update.
Amar Ranch Oxnard
Buy Low Market, Norwalk
Top Valu Market, Long Beach
Valu Mart Food Warehouse, Temple City
Persepolis, Iran (for comparison!)