For all its troubles and challenges, Afghanistan has a long and rich history of agriculture that predates and transcends its current celebrated culivation of poppies. In the 1940s, that history drew Dr. Harold Olmo, a grape breeder at the University of California, Davis, to the country's remote reaches in search of vines from ancient vineyards. He found some, and returned to Davis with seeds and cuttings, where they were propagated in the university's vineyard. When Dr. Olmo died at 96 four years ago this month, the university reported that cuttings of grape varieties now extinct in Afghanistan had just been returned to the country, ostensibly in the hope that vineyards with those grapes again could be established. If they have, I haven't found any evidence online.
Dr. Olmo and his worthy intentions came to mind the other day as I read this intriguing article on the blog The Wine Economist. It's about the understandable difficulty of finding decent blackmarket wine in Kabul. At first, I thought it might be a put-on, but Mike Veseth, who customarily writes the blog but not this posting, assures me it's "completely legit." Veseth, who teaches international political economy at the University of Puget Sound, relied on a trusted correspondent whose identity he concealed because of the illegal activities he witnessed and reported. Veseth also has no idea of what became of the vine cuttings from UC Davis, but also hopes that someone will follow up and report on the exchange.
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