The oldest winery in the world

“Wine… the intellectual part of the meal.” (Alexandre Dumas, 1873)

In 2020, about 260 million hectoliters of wine were produced worldwide. That is 50,000 liters of wine per minute. About 10,000 varieties of wine grapes exist in the world. However, wine is older than recorded human history. Wine has been loved since ancient times. It was frequently praised by writers, storytellers, artists, and historians. In those times, people considered wine to be a magical gift of nature. Aesop and Homer have frequently mentioned wine in their works. Ancient Greeks even had a god of wine, Dionysus (1500-11000 BC). Hippocrates has mentioned wine in his recorded remedies. He used it to cure fevers and as a general antiseptic more than 2000 years ago. But where did the production of wine begin?

Historians suggest that people have started growing grapes around 8000 BC after they started to harvest wheat. Wine has been mentioned from ancient times in different countries, such as Georgia (6000 BC), Iran (5000 BC), and Sicily (4000 BC). Egyptians have also produced wine not only from different kinds of grapes, but also from pomegranates, figs, and dates. Though it is not certain, evidence suggests that the cultivation of grapes originated in the Transcaucasia (between Black and Caspian Seas). According to historians, grape domestication started in the Shulaveri gorge (Georgia), where they found 8000 years old grape seeds. 7400 years old remnants of wine on clay pots were found at Hajji Firuz Tepe (Iran). Some evidence suggests that 6300 years ago, people were crushing grapes into wine in Northern Greece. Evidence of fermented drinks made of a mixture of rice and grapes was discovered in ancient China, 7000 BC.

The oldest winery in the world, which is 6100 years old, was discovered in a cave in the Armenian mountains. Before this discovery, the oldest known winery was in Israel (1650 BC). In 2007, an international team of researchers had an expedition in the cave complex called Areni-1, which is located near Areni village along the Arpa River in the Vayots Dzor province. The cave is a ritual site from the Early Bronze age or Chalcolithic Period.

The entrance of the Areni-1 cave

While there are older pieces of evidence of drinking wine, this discovery is considered to be the earliest example of complete wine production. It is the first place where researchers found grapes and winemaking tools together. They discovered a drinking bowl, a grape press, grape seeds, desiccated vines, pottery sherds, and fermentation jars. Botanists suggest that the grape seeds found at the site are the species Vitis vinifera. Today these species are used widely in wine production.

The archaeological site of Areni-1

Gregory Areshian, co-director of the excavation and assistant director of UCLA’s Cotsen Institute of Archaeology said, “Producing this wine would have been a high technology of the time incorporating detailed knowledge of watering cycles, pruning the vines, how to deal with pests and the fermentation process itself, which is more complex than brewing beer.”

Pottery discovered at Areni-1

Several months before this discovery in the same cave, archeologists discovered the oldest leather shoe. There was also discovered a human skull that contained the most ancient fragment of brain tissue. Historians believe that the skull and wine were connected through rituals. They suggest that in ancient times fermentation was a mystery. Getting drunk was considered something divine, and people would use wine for ceremonial purposes. This is supported by the fact that wine is linked to religious divinities, such as Teshub, Osiris, Dionysus, and Jesus.



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