A glimpse of life under the Sharia from Iran: the demise of Iran’s wine industry. Yes, you read that right: Iran’s wine industry. From The Guardian, with thanks to Sir Percy:
The desolate vista resembles an archaeological ruin, or the shattered aftermath of a devastating military bombardment. Once-proud mud-brick homes are uninhabited and partially reduced to rubble. The streets, mere dirt tracks, are potholed and rutted. Identifiable signs of human activity are – for the most part – absent. And even among the dead in the local graveyard, many headstones, bearing elaborate carvings that hint at a long-gone affluence, are damaged or visibly uncared for.
But this is not a war zone. And the life that bustled here disappeared, not thousands of years ago, but within the last generation, shrivelled almost out of existence under the stern new order of Iran’s Islamic revolution. This is Khollar, an isolated, once-thriving small town set in a valley amid the Zagros mountains. It stands – though only just – as a salutary example of a world disappeared, swept out of existence by an oceanic wave of political and social change.
Despite the aura of abandonment, around 250 people still live here, somehow squeezing an income from sources such as sheep farming. Before the revolution in 1979, there were several thousand. They were sustained by Iran’s long-defunct wine industry.
A verdant landscape of grape plants dominating the surrounding hillsides was picked assiduously and its fruit loaded onto trucks to be transported to a refinery in Shiraz, about 40 miles away, where it was turned into wine. The refinery’s Jewish owners sold their produce on the domestic market and abroad, where it gained an international reputation.
“Ten to 20 trucks a day would come in seven days a week during the summer months. It was a very busy town,” said Ravanbakhsh Vaseghi, 37, whose father and grandfather earned their living selling grapes to the Shiraz wine merchants. “Before the revolution, I remember friends coming back from Dubai with a bottle of wine. The label was marked ‘Khollar, Shiraz, Iran.’ Red and white wines were produced from here. It was part of life. The change was sudden.”
It was wrought by the revolution, with its strict injunctions against alcohol. The Shiraz refinery was closed. Where it once stood, a sports centre is now being built for employees of the local telecommunications company. The lorries that had guaranteed Khollar a basic level of prosperity stopped coming when the refinery shut. Gradually, the population drifted away in search of new livelihoods….
Ever resourceful and independent of mind, Khollar’s few remaining denizens have nonetheless found a way to continue their proud tradition. They do so by pouring freshly squeezed grape juice into clay pots, which are then placed in freshly dug ditches before being covered with sheep droppings to aid fermentation and, coincidentally, escape the eyes of any law enforcement authorities who might have occasion to visit. If they ever do, their detection skills might not stretch to unearthing the illicit alcohol. But they may observe that, shorn of its previous inhabitants and cut off from its time-honoured source of income, Khollar lacks something generally deemed essential in contemporary Iran – a proper mosque.
Read it all.