Origins and historical evolution. The grape-vine (Vitis vinifera, raz, mow, tāk) is probably the oldest and best known of the cultivated fruit plants grown in Iran (B. Laufer, Sino-Iranica, Chicago, 1919, p. 220; H. Wulff, The Traditional Crafts of Persia, Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1966, p. 244; A. H. Nayer-Nouri, Iran’s Contribution to the World Civilization, Tehran, 1969, pp. 8-10). According to A. de Candolle (L’Origine des plantes cultivées, Paris, 5th ed., 1912, p. 152) the grape-vine is at home in the region south of the Caucasus, from the Black Sea to the Caspian region of Iran, where “it has the shape of a strong liana climbing over high trees and producing abundant fruit without any pruning or cultivation.” His statement is still generally accepted, since the greatest diversity in varieties can be observed there. Huart and Delaporte (L’Iran antique, Paris, 1943, p. 12) consider Māzandarān as the homeland of vine, but they do not substantiate this more precise location.
Though cereals and some kinds of pulse were cultivated earlier, the beginning of viticulture is old enough to be lost in the dawn of history, and the spread of vine from its supposed homeland must have begun very early. Both vine and wine were already known in Egypt and in Mesopotamia by 3000 B.C., and one can not decide between the theories of Semitic and Indo-European origins of vine-growing. Anyway, viticulture was in a high state of development in ancient Iran, and many Greek and Roman writers associated wine drinking with the Persians (Laufer, Sino-Iranica, p. 223-25). Strabo (2.1.14) describes enormous vines in Margiana (Marv) and the rich wines of Aria (Herat) and Hyrcania (Gorgān). Ancient Persians were great lovers of wine and consumed it in large quantities (Herodotus, 1.133). Best vintage-wines, from Persia and other parts of the empire such as Syria (Strabo, 15.3.22), were served at the royal table, and the office of cup-bearer in the palace was of particular importance (Xenophon, Cyropaedia 1.3.8-9).
The Chinese received the grape-vine in late historical times, together with alfalfa, through the mission of general Čan K’ien, who, in 128 B.C., traveled in the eastern provinces of Bactriana, Sogdiana and Farḡāna (Laufer, Sino-Iranica, pp. 221, 223, 228). When Turkistan fell into the hands of Turkish tribes, they adopted vine and wine production from their Iranian predecessors.
The Islamic conquest did not cause a sharp decline in viticulture, as it actually did in most Muslim countries in the Mediterranean basin (X. de Planhol, Le monde islamique: Essai de géographie religieuse, Paris, 1957, pp. 54-58). But in Persia viticulture remained quite important, and was not confined to the production of fresh grapes (angūr) and verjuice (āb-e gūra) for domestic consumption or raisins (kešmeš) for sale, since the propensity of Persians towards wine did not disappear with the spread of Islam (idem, “Une rencontre de l’Europe et de l’Iran: le vin de Shirâz,” Iran, Paris, 1972, p. 52). Arab geographers, in spite of their reticence towards this subject, explicitly mention the activity of wine making. Moqaddasī (p. 356) noticed that only the small town of Bīār was puritan enough to be devoid of taverns. This inclination to wine was marked in the highest classes of society, and many authors mention drinking bouts at the Safavid court (e.g., J. Chardin, Voyage de Paris à Isfahan, repr. Paris, 1983, II, pp. 219-20, who also describes the royal chiraconé, i.e., šarābḵāna, “house of wine,” ibid., p. 266; cf. N. Falsafī, Zendagānī-e Šāh ʿAbbās-e awwal III, Tehran, 1334 Š./1955, pp. 255-68); most of the well-to-do people, including some of the clergy, also indulged in wine, and viticulture was widespread in all Persian towns.
The trade of wine was in the hands of Jews and Christians in all the importint wine-producing districts, such as Qazvīn, Hamadān, Shiraz and Isfahan. This trade was limited to the Persian internal market, with the bright exception of Shiraz where, as the closest point to India where wine could be manufactured, French, English, Dutch and Portuguese agents developed a very active exportation trade towards the East Indies during the 17th and 18th centuries. That, however, ceased with the rise of speedy maritime transportation in the 19th century (Planhol, “Le vin de Shirâz,” pp. 51-55).
Present production in Iran. Grape-vine is now cultivated all over Iran except in the southern coastal region. The number of cultivated varieties is extremely high; forty varieties are grown in the province of Azerbaijan and fifteen in the province of Fārs alone (Īrānšahr II, pp. 1652-53; Wulff, Traditional Crafts, p. 244; see also p. 271 about grafting and pruning; Figure 2).
In 1972 (Natāyeǰ-e āmārgīrī-e kešāvarzī 1351), 591,000 Iranian farmers were partly busy in vine-growing. Their distribution according to the size of holdings (32.8 percent under l ha; 33.2 percent from l to 5 ha; 33.5 percent from 5 to 50 ha; 0.5 percent over 50 ha) was very similar to that of the whole peasantry, which shows that vine-dressers are not so specialized in that activity in Iran as they are in most vine-growing countries.
Vineyards are partly irrigated (ābī) and partly unirrigated (deym). In 1973 (Natāyeǰ-e saršomārī-e kešāvarzī, marḥala-ye awwal 1352) unirrigated vineyards occupied 28 percent of the 192,889 ha devoted to vine, but produced only 7.5 percent of the total crop (590,000 tons), for most of them are located in arid mountains of Fārs and Khorasan and give very low yields (see Fig. 2). The bulk of the crop comes from irrigated vineyards of semi-arid northwestern Iran, with rather high yields. Irrigation water is often brought into deep furrows between the vine-plants; in Azerbaijan, the vine-dressers let it freeze in winter in order to kill parasites, and protect the vine-stocks with mounds of earth (E. Berthaud, “La vie rurale dans quelques villages chrétiens de l’Azerbaidjan occidental,” Revue de géographie de Lyon 43/3, pp. 315-16). The main producing regions are Qazvīn and Hamadān, accounting together for 38 percent of the Iranian production in 1973 (and for 66 percent in 1925-26 according to Kayhān, op. cit., but his data seem to be incomplete); and the Urmia plain in Western Azerbaijan where Assyrian and Armenian peasants are often specialized in vine-growing (Berthaud, op. cit.; see also the example of Gardābād village in Research Group, “A Study of the Rural Economic Problems of East and West Azarbaijan,” Tahqiqat-é eqtesadi 5/13-14, 1968, pp. 212-27). Grape is also grown, to a lesser extent, in the oases of Central Iran, with especially high yields, and Khorasan.
We lack statistical information on the distribution of the crop between fresh grapes sold in the urban markets, sundried raisins partly exported, and wine manufactured by Christian people. The latter has certainly declined in the last years, at first because of the emigration of Christian peasants to the towns, and more quickly since the Islamic revolution reinforced the prohibition of alcohol.
See also Šarāb.
See also Dehḵodā, Loḡat-nāma, s.v. angūr, giving a list of thirty-four varieties.
The highlands of Afghanistan form the eastern extremity of the Mediterranean climatic belt (Rathjens), and therefore, the vine is a major agricultural resource. In the country’s peripheral lowlands, it is rare on account of the heat and aridity. In sheltered basins in southern Afghanistan, where trees give shade and moisture is conserved, it is found from altitudes of about 600 m upwards and reaches its maximum extent at about 1000 m. The altitudes of the lowest-lying big vineyards of the Qandahār district are about 1100 m, and of those further north in the Harī-rūd valley near Herat ca. 900 m. In the central mountains, growth of the vine is restricted by the high altitude and the cold; its upper limit on the northern slope of the Hindu Kush is 2350 m according to Humlum (2050 m according to Vavilov). In practice vines do not give good yields above 2100-2200 m. High basins such as that of Gardēz (ca. 2200 m) stand at the upper limit of useful cultivation.
Afghan viticulture is undoubtedly an indigenous tradition and in some respects is different from Mediterranean viticulture (see Neubauer, passim). The tradition was particularly deep-rooted among the Kafir tribes of the mountains north-east of Kabul until their islamization at the end of the 19th century, when their vines were almost totally uprooted in an attempt to stop wine-making. The vines still to be found in the valleys of this district (Nūrestān) are not cultivated; they were formerly thought to be old cultivated vines gone wild, but have now been shown to be of wild origin because their commonest habitats are rocky slopes and forests well away from human settlements. These wild vines of Nūrestān, now designated as the sub-species Vitis nuristanica Vassilczenko, belong to the species Vitis vinifera, which is quite distinct from the European Vitis silvestris. The wine-making by the Kafirs at first depended mainly on the collection of wild grapes. This primitive method antedated viticulture and was evidently in use at the time of Alexander’s invasion. (In the account of his conquest of Nysa, the town’s environs are described by Quintus Curtius [8.10] as “abounding in ivy bushes and vines,” which must have been climbers and wild.) The long survival of the ancient tradition in these valleys in high mountains may be attributed to cultural isolation where paganism was in retreat and islamization was in progress in the rest of the country.
In the big river basins, however, real viticulture in organized plantations gradually took shape. Western cultural influences brought by the Greeks may well have stimulated this development. Nothing definite can be said on the question whether the vineyards of today are stocked with Vitis nuristanica or other species, because sufficient evidence is not yet available (Krochmal and Nawabi, Galet). The vineyards are always irrigated, even though rain-fed vine growth is possible in most of the districts. The waterings, however, are few and far between—in Afghan Turkestan only once a year. Viticulture is here assimilated to a system of irrigated agriculture which has its own established techniques and is very different from the rain-fed agriculture of the Mediterranean lands.
Vineyards make a substantial contribution to Afghanistan’s food-supply and economy. Their total area was estimated at 60,000 hectares by the F.A.O. in 1966, but is more likely to be around 40,000 ha (Galet, p. 117), roughly 2 percent of the total cultivated area. The most important are in the Kōhestān of Kabul between Kabul and Čarīkār (ca. l0,000 ha), and in the districts of Qandahār (15,000 ha), Herat (5000 ha), and Mazār-e Šarīf (3000 ha). Local consumption of grapes and raisins is large, and exportation to India is known to have been carried on since ancient times (see Planhol, “Le vin de l’Afghanistan,” p. 6). Average annual exports in 1980-82 were raisins 70-80,000 tons, fresh grapes 20-25,000 tons, virtually all to Pakistan and India.
P. Galet, “Rapport sur la viticulture en Afghanistan,” Vitis 8, 1969, pp. 114-28; 9, 1970, pp. 15-46.
J. Humlum, La géographie de l’Afghanistan, Copenhagen, 1959, pp. 183-88.
A. Krochmal and A. A. Nawabi, “A descriptive study of the grapes of Afghanistan,” Vitis 22, 1961, pp. 241-56.
H. F. Neubauer, “Über ein ursprüngliches Vorkommen der wilden Vitis vinifera in Ost-Afghanistan,” Obst und Wein. Mitteilungen der Bundes-Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt für Wein-, Obst-, und Gartenbau Klosterneuburg, Serie B, 2, 1952, pp. 139-46.
Idem, “Bemerkungen über das Vorkommen wilder Obstsorten in Nuristan,” Angewandte Botanik 28, 1954, pp. 81-88.
Idem, “Die Nuristanrebe. Herkunft der Edelrebe und Ursprung des Weinbaues,” Afghanistan Journal 1, 1974, pp. 32-36.
X. de Planhol, “Le vin de l’Afghanistan et de l’Himalaya occidental,” Revue géographique de l’Est, 1977, pp. 3-26.
C. Rathjens, “Mediterrane Beziehungen und Züge in der Landschaft Afghanistans,” Die Erde, 1958, pp. 257-66.
N. Vavilov and D. D. Bukinich, Zemledel’cheskiĭ Afganistan, Leningrad, 1929, pp. 468-72.
O. H. Volk, “Klima and Pflanzenverbreitung in Afghanistan,” Vegetatio. Acta Geobotanica 5/6, 1954, pp. 422-33.
K. Wolski, “Uwagi nad rolnictwem środkowego Afganistanu na podstawie badań terenowych z roku 1969,” Lud 56, 1972, pp. 161-88, esp. pp. 186-87.
(X. de Planhol)
Grapes as a food crop are mentioned in geographical texts from the earliest Islamic times; and must have formed an important part of the diet in fruit-growing areas. They were also important in wine making, and their significance is underscored by the fact that certain areas are described as not producing grapes. Ḥodūd al-ʿālam says that the town of Ark in the land of the Toḡozḡoz possesses plenty of fruit except grapes (p. 77; tr. Minorsky, p. 94); in the country of the Slavs there are no grapes but plenty of honey, from which wine is prepared (p. 187; tr. p. 158). Eṣṭaḵrī (Masālek wa mamālek, ed. Ī. Afšār, Tehran, 1340 Š./1961) mentions Qazvīn (p. 172), Samandar (near the Caspian, p. 179), and Ṭāq (near Bost in Sīstān, p. 198) as growing grapes; Manṣūra, in Sind, is listed (p. 148) as having date palms but no grapes. Nozhat al-qolūb adds numerous other places having grapes, including Herat (p. 152; tr. p. 150) where the faḵrī variety is specifically mentioned.
The most evocative description of grapes comes in the Čahār maqāla of Neẓāmī ʿArūżī Samarqandī (ed. M. Qazvīnī and M. Moʿīn, Tehran, 1333 Š./1954; French tr. by I. de Gastines, Paris, 1968). The Samanid ruler Naṣr b. Aḥmad, having passed the spring at Bādḡīs, decided to winter in Herat, in the environs of which “a hundred and twenty varieties of grapes, each more delicate and delicious than the other,” are found. Two of these varieties, namely parnīān and kālenǰarī (the latter with extraordinarily heavy bunches) are said to be found in no other part of the inhabited world. “They picked grapes for raisins in Mālen and grapes for seeding, and they strung cords for drying the bunches, and they filled their storehouses with them” (pp. 50-51; tr. pp. 73-74). To confirm the abundance of grapes in Herat, the editor of Čahār maqāla quotes a passage from Nowrūz-nāma (ed. M. Mīnovī, Tehran, 1312 Š./1933, p. 70) which says that many varieties of grapes in Herat are not found in any other city or land and that people speak of more than a hundred varieties (p. 153).
Grapes as a part of Persian cuisine are mentioned in the Sofra-ye aṭʿema of Mīrzā ʿAlī-Akbar Khan Āšpazbāšī (Tehran, 1353 Š./1974); grapes are listed among nine mofradāt “constituent elements” associated with lunch (pp. 5-6); grapes also appear in a list of twenty-four edible fruits (p. 74). Grape juice (āb-e angūr) is used in the preparation of molasses (šīra), and the juice of unripe grapes is boiled down to produce āb-gūra (p. 68). Grapes appear in traditional lore often in association with wine. Farhang-e Ānandrāǰ (ed. M. Dabīrsīāqī, Tehran, 1335 Š./1956, s.v. angūr) quotes the Mer’āt-e Jahān-nāma (ms.) to the effect that tradition (ḵabar) holds that the first food eaten by Adam and Eve in Paradise was grapes. Nowrūz-nāma gives a legendary account of the first grape vine and the discovery of wine; the events take place during the reign of king Šemīrān, descended from Jamšīd, who ruled Khorasan from Herat. This text appears to be from the Ghaznavid period, and it is noteworthy that here too grapes are associated prominently with Herat.
The linking of grapes with wine figures in a story appearing in Baḷʿamī (Tārīḵ, pp. 110-11): Eblīs taught Tūmāl, a pleasure-loving son of Cain, to squeeze the juice from grapes and make wine; he taught his brothers to drink wine and they all became drunk. Early commentaries on the Koran also contain references to grapes. The Tafsīr Qorʾān-e pāk (Tehran, 1344 Š./1965, p. 45), in commenting on Koran 2:96, says that God sent two angels to teach men right and wrong; they taught that grape juice, which can become wine and thus illegal to drink, is legal to drink as juice. In the Tarǰama-ye tafsīr-e Ṭabarī (ed. Ḥ. Yaḡmāʾī, Tehran, 1339-44 Š./1960-65, p. 57), the origin of grapes is described in a commentary on Koran 2:39: Gabriel brought from Paradise the seeds of thirty fruits in three groups of ten; grapes were in the second group, of which both the skin and pulp can be eaten.
Grapes appear frequently in poetry, usually associated with wine, a link that extends the metaphorical functions of grapes in many directions. Jalāl-al-dīn Rūmī (Maṯnawī, ed. R. A Nicholson, London, 1925-40, bk. II, lines 3681-93) tells of a Persian, an Arab, a Turk, and a Greek who quarreled about grapes because each called them by a different name (angūr, ʿenab, etc.); this incident is then used to exemplify the problem of apparent and hidden meanings, and of superficial and true knowledge. Masīḥ Kāšī (quoted in Farhang-e Ānandrāǰ, s.v. āvang), feeling persecuted, compares himself to a bunch of grapes hanging on a drying-cord. In Saʿdī’s Golestān (chap. 5, story 21), a qāżī in love with a youth who is angry with him says that green grapes are sour, but soon they become sweet.
Grapes are often personified: They have blood (Oṯmān Moḵtārī, Dīvān, p. 164; Masʿūd Saʿd Salmān, Dīvān, pp. 43, 267) or a soul (Rūmī, Kollīyāt, lines 17,585-86). But the most striking personification is as the mother of wine; the earliest example is Rūdakī’s qaṣīda on wine making (S. Nafīsī, Moḥīṭ-e zendagānī o aḥwāl o ašʿār-e Rūdakī, Tehran, 1341 Š./1962, pp. 506-08). The image is greatly elaborated by Manūčehrī (Dīvān, pp. 7-11, 147-169, 198-205; cf. a qaṣīda by Baššār (?) Marḡazī in Maǰmaʿ al-foṣaḥāʾ I, pp. 440-42). With both poets, the grape as the mother of wine forms the basis of a fanciful narrative about how wine is made. This personification is used by other poets in a reduced form simply by referring to wine as zāda-ye angūr, “born of the grape” (e.g., ʿOṯmān Moḵtārī, Dīvān, p. 121; Moʿezzī, Dīvān, p. 335). Grapes also appear in mystical images, often in poems calling for spiritual “intoxication,” or comparing drunkenness from alcohol with the intoxication of the love of God (e.g., Rūmī, Kollīyāt, lines 51, 931, 12,341). Ḥāfeẓ alludes to these two forms of intoxication in a ḡazal about self-deception and pride (Dīvān, no. 453, p. 316). Bosḥāq (Dīvān-e aṭʿema, pp. 30-31) parodies the last line of Ḥāfeẓ’s “Turk of Shiraz” ḡazal (Dīvān, no. 3, pp. 3-4) by talking of grapes instead of poetry.
Abū Esḥāq Ḥallāǰ Šīrāzī, Dīvān-e aṭʿema, ed. Mīrzā Ḥabīb Eṣfahānī, Istanbul, 1303/1885-86.
Ḥāfeẓ, Dīvān, ed.
M. Qazvīnī and Q. Ḡanī, Tehran, 1335 Š./1956.
Jalāl-al-dīn Rūmī, Kollīyāt-e Šams, ed.
B. Forūzānfar, 8 vols., Tehran, 1336-42 Š./1957-63.
Manūčehrī, Dīvān, ed.
M. Dabīrsīāqī, Tehran, 1338 Š./1959.
Masʿūd Saʿd Salmān, Dīvān, ed.
R. Yāsemī, Tehran, 1339 Š./1960.
Amīr Moʿezzī, Dīvān, ed.
ʿA. Eqbāl, Tehran, 1318 Š./1939.
ʿOṯmān Moḵtārī, Dīvān, ed.
J. Homāʾī, Tehran, 1341 Š./1962.
(W. L. Hanaway, Jr)
(M. Bazin, X. de Planhol, W. L. Hanaway, Jr)
Originally Published: December 15, 1985
Last Updated: August 5, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. II, Fasc. 1, pp. 70-74