OOn his first day as a free man, Farhad Bandesh poured a glass of wine on himself. It was his 40th birthday, December 11, 2020, after seven and a half years of detention between Christmas islands. Manus Island At the Mantra Hotel in Melbourne, he was ready to try the Australian Schillers for the first time.
It was softer than the red he drank in Iran. This taste confirmed a long-standing dream – he wanted to establish himself in the Australian wine world.
Bandesh was not unfamiliar with winemaking. He started producing wine for self-consumption at the age of 22, but was forced to flee Iran in 2013.
Many are surprised when he tells people his desire to be a winemaker and that he is a Kurdish in Iran. They are even more surprised to learn that the Kurds were one of the first cultures to produce wine. “We have an 8000 year history of making wine and spirits,” he says.
In Kurdistan, grapes grow wild and are harvested and sold in markets and on the streets. Prior to the 1979 revolution, winemaking was widespread in Iran. Later, the production and consumption of alcohol was banned and the country’s commercial vineyards were destroyed.
Winemaking has become a more secret practice. Bandesh vividly remembers the first time he tried a glass. At the age of 19, he was fascinated by the blend of sweetness and bitterness, the sharp kick of alcohol, and the dryness left in his mouth. He explains that Kurdish reds are richer and more tannins than the Australian Shiraz. In some cases, banana peels are added during fermentation due to sweetness. “It’s funny … you have to try it,” he says.
Many Kurds practice Muslims, but many, like Bandesh, do not. “Kurds love to drink wine and share their spirits,” he says happily. “Any ritual, any occasion.”
When asked what he thought of Australian wine, his eyes brightened and his smile spread all over his face, saying, “Wow!”
Bandesh was detained at the Mantra Hotel after medically evacuating to Australia in 2019. He knew he wanted to make wine commercially if he was given freedom.
Through social media, he connected with refugee advocate Sarah Andrew, co-president of Sommelier Australia. The two formed a friendship and she visited him on a regular basis. His release coincided with the beginning of the vintage and he was eager to participate in the harvest.
Many of his friends told him to relax and wait, but he refused. “I’ve lost eight years of my life and will never come back. If I can’t get a job now, I’ll have to wait until next year.”
He turned to Andrew for help and began looking for a job. “I’m in awe of his thirst for life. His thirst for achieving, growing and giving back,” says Andrew. She connected Bandesh to MacForbes in Yarra Valley’s MacForbes Wines. The pair hit it immediately.
Andrew and Forbes warned Bandesh about how cruel the Australian vintage is. The days are long, the weather is hot, and the work is hard. Bandesh was not blocked.
“Farhad lost weight … every challenge had a sparkle in his eyes,” Forbes says.
Despite the physically demanding work, Bandesh’s life at Mac Forbes felt a world far from the last eight years. When he was detained on Manus Island for six years, he shared a tent with 50 others. At the winery, he often stayed in staff accommodation and fell asleep in the sounds of animals and the wind of trees.
After the days of backbreaking in the scorching sun, he cooked a supper with a colleague. “The people here are very beautiful,” he says.
Forbes helped Bandesh procure his own fruit and provided a winemaking facility. Eventually, Bandesh produced the first wines commercially, as well as vintage work. Time to Fly Shiraz and Game Over Cabernet Sauvignon will be released later this year.
It is still unclear if the wine will be bottled. Bandesh has a bridge visa that expires this month. He has applied to update it and wants success, but thinking about the consequences can be very stressful. “With a visa, I’m not happy,” he says. “No one is happy. It makes everything difficult for you, you can’t think of your business or your job or your home … I need a permanent home in Australia.”
If he can move on, Bandesh wants his bottle to draw attention to the unfair refugees and asylum seekers facing Australia.
In October 2017, the Australian Government closed Manus Island.Services such as food supply, electricity and running water were cut off, but Bandesh and 600 other asylum seekers I was scared and couldn’t leave.. Meanwhile, he painted the current Shiraz logo. He asked supporters to write captions to accompany the images via social media. It called on the Australian Government to take a Manus man to Australia. They wrote “Time to Fly”. He named Cabernet Sauvignon Game Over for the Amnesty International campaign.
Despite all he has experienced, Bandesh is nothing less than a love for Australians. “Australian people are now my big family … I want to show them love.”
Taste of freedom: a Kurdish winemaker’s journey from Manus Island to the Yarra Valley | Wine Source link Taste of freedom: a Kurdish winemaker’s journey from Manus Island to the Yarra Valley | Wine