While many in the Western world might associate the sacred origins of wine with Christian and Jewish rituals, the actual history of wine and biodynamic wine in particular can be traced to Persia.
Here, a Persian folktale illuminates wine’s mythical origins:
When a lady of the court lost the favor of the [mythical] King [Jamshid], she attempted to poison herself by consuming the juice of some spoiled table grapes. Soon, she started to feel intoxicated and drowsy and fell into a deep sleep. When the lady awoke, instead of feeling sick, she realized that the grapes made her feel relaxed and happy. When she informed the King about this, he was so delighted by her new “potion” that he ordered his kingdom to increase the production of spoiled grapes, which later began to be consumed as wine.
In his research, Dr. Patrick McGovern, Scientific Director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Project for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, lends credence to this folktale by documenting how the wine culture originated in Persia. “Our earliest finding is that the Neolithic villagers of the northern Zagros Mountains of Iran were making wine and storing wine in some of the earliest pottery jars from the Middle East, ca. 5400 B.C. Chemical analysis of the residue of a Neolithic jar dating from as early as 5400–5000 BC indicates high levels of tartaric acid, again suggesting that the fluid contained therein had been made from grapes.”
Fermented beverages, especially wine, have long played a crucial role in the transfer of culture from one people to another around the world.Dr. Patrick McGovern
In particular, Dr. McGovern documented the seminal role wine played in ancient civilizations. “As medicine, social lubricant, mind-altering substance, and highly valued commodity, wine became the focus of religious cults, pharmacopeias, cuisines, economies, and society.”
According to Moe Momtazi, Founder of Maysara Winery and Momtazi Vineyards (McMinnville, Oregon), Persians refer to wine as a living spirit that sprung from the marriage of the sun and the earth. The grapevines that can go down several hundred feet into the soil make this plant a prisoner of the earth that depends on the soil for substance. But a grapevine is also a dreamer of the sky with its vines reaching towards heaven and its flowers opening around the Summer Solstice.
Persian culture and biodynamic farming
In developing the concept of biodynamic farming, scientist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) drew upon the works of the ancient Persian philosopher Zoroaster. These teachings viewed life as a struggle between the forces of light, goodness, and creation (aša) and those of darkness and evil (druj). For Steiner, mechanical farming practices such as the use of chemical fertilizers represented druj in that they led to the decline of both plant and animal health. Conversely, aša describes farming which connects nature and spirit by integrating crops, livestock, and healthy plants into a fertile self-sustaining biosphere.
On his 500-acre farm, Momtazi carries on traditions of his Persian ancestors and Steiner’s teachings. According to Momtazi, the first spirit is the universal spirit that’s moved around since the beginning and brought forth the elements of hot, dry, cold, and wet. Hot and dry combined to make fire, cold and dry created soil, and wet and cold produced water. Also, air is a combination of hot and wet.
The second spirit is plant spirit, which gets light, heat, and air from the cosmos and minerality from the earth. Next are the animal spirits, which have the same properties as plant spirits but they can make certain decisions on their own. Finally comes human spirit, which is dependent on the first three spirits but also has the capacity to make decisions and create things from the earth such as wine.
As Persian culture believes wine makes itself courtesy of the sun and soil, they don’t have a specific word for winemaker. Having said that, the wine pourer was deemed a very important figurehead as they were the ones who determined how much wine each person was to have. A wine pourer had to go through very rigorous training in poetry, literature, and music in order to provide a fully immersive experience that incorporated all the senses, as well as the spirits.
Next time you select a wine, try to go a bit deeper. Turn your wine tasting into a spiritual experience. Look beyond the wine ratings, fancy labels, and other marketing maneuvers designed to lure you into trying a specific trendy vintage. Instead, take the words of the poet Rumi to heart and tune in to what the spirit of wine is saying to you.
Be a connoisseur,
and taste with caution.
Any wine will get you high.
Judge like a king, and choose the purest,
the ones unadulterated with fear,
or some urgency about “what’s needed.”
Drink the wine that moves you
as a camel moves when it’s been untied,
and is just ambling about.
Mathnawi IV, 2683-96