World's Oldest Known Winery, Discovered in an Armenian Cave

By Andrew Moseman | January 12, 2011 11:03 am

Humans were brewing up a crude version of beer about 9,000 years ago, but wine may rival its longevity in inebriating civilization. Scientists report this week the finding evidence of a the oldest known wine-making works in the world, in Armenia. It dates back about 6,000 years, but its sophistication shows that people could have established wineries long before.

[The cave] contained everything necessary to produce wine from grapes, including a grape press, fermentation vats, storage jars, wine-soaked pottery shards and even a cup and drinking bowl. [Los Angeles Times]

Grape residue doesn’t easily preserve, but a touch of good fortune helped the team make this find. The cave’s roof collapsed and sealed its contents in an airtight environment, preserving the wine-making gear for six millennia.

The cave is near Armenia’s border with Iran, and study leader Gregory Areshian and colleagues say the evidence shows organized wine making done the old fashioned way—stomping the grapes with foot power.

Juice from the trampled grapes drained into the vat, where it was left to ferment, he explained. The wine was then stored in jars—the cool, dry conditions of the cave would have made a perfect wine cellar. [National Geographic]

Armenia, a small highland country wedged between Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, was incorporated into the Soviet Union in the 20th century, but that is only a recent example of Armenia finding itself in crossroads of culture and power. The Hittite empire that reached its ascent in about the 14th century B.C, for example, ruled this area, with other empires to follow. However, the people who used these wine-making tools (as well as those responsible for the oldest-known leather shoe, also found in Armenia) lived another 2,700 years or so before the zenith of Hittite power.

By 4,000 B.C., they had already developed some of the methods that would stay in use until the 1800s A.D. The grape residue shows they were already using the Vitis vinifera—perhaps the most important grape in wine-making history. All this would suggest that humans worked out how to make vino even further into the past.

“This find shows that there was a high degree of agriculture and horticultural skill even back in 4,000 BC,” says Areshian. “Producing this wine would have been 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.” [CNN]

This study is forthcoming in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

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Image: Gregory Areshian

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Origins
MORE ABOUT: alcohol, archaeology, wine
  • Matt B.

    Even though it’s the same species of grape, I’m wondering how much it’s changed through breeding in 6,000 years.

  • fatkid

    where did this old grape originate? such a lovely window to our past.. I’m a chef and an instructor, it’s nice to see such a breathtaking level of sophistication to create what we often take for granted today!

  • cgauthier

    …but wine may rival its longevity in inebriating civilization.

    Longevity, smongevity. Wine making is a crude process, within the reach of any savage with a lot of fruit on his hands. It was love of beer, mmm, that convinced Sumerians and Egyptians to settle down as civilized, industrial nations.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003406754920 Amar

    I produce Mijiah wine you may email me At . The pdcruot container is handmade stoneware with the dents of my palm. The fruits are gathered from the wilds, except for the mango ,by cultural minorities in the Philippines. These mountain dwellers survive by charcoal making. There is one cluster we are helping with 10 communities , each community comprises 71 families who does nothing but chop 6n to 8 year old trees for firewood and charcoal. Since we started buying wild berries from them did they realize the destruction they are doing. This cluster chops 8,520 trees per year. Now they are our forest guardian , realizing the value of protecting the environment.Thanks and email me.Elbert Pigtain

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