In our previous History of Wine article, we investigated the world’s oldest known wines. The traces of these wines were often found in jars but there was very little to indicate exactly how and why they were produced. Whilst some of the wine creation was thought to be incidental, other evidence suggested more of an intentional production.
However, it was only in 2010 that the first concrete (or rather stone) evidence of a winery was found. In this part of the History of Wine series we’ll be investigating the ‘world’s oldest winery’.
Today’s modern wineries can be found around the world, often surrounded by vineyards and filled to the brim with sophisticated winemaking equipment and technology. Although we know that large scale production has been occurring for centuries, you may be surprised to know that the world’s oldest known winery dates actually back to 4100 BC! The relics of the winery were discovered in a cave located in the Yeghegnadzor region in Armenia.
World’s Oldest Winery: The Areni-1 Cave
The world’s oldest winery was discovered in the so-called Areni-1 cave. Located in the town of Areni in southern Armenia, the cave was discovered in 2010 by a team of Armenian, Irish and US archaeologists. Although winemaking equipment was first detected in 2007, it was only when the excavations were completed in 2010 that the archaeologists discovered the full magnitude of the Areni-1 cave complex.
Upon initial discovery, the ceiling of the cave had collapsed. This meant that the findings were preserved under a layer of rock. Underneath lay an extraordinary discovery… The researchers found rudimentary fermentation vats, storage jars, cups, and a wine press. They even found the preserved seeds and vines of the grapes used to produce the wine. Further excavation revealed a large, 2-foot-deep vat buried next to a shallow 3.5-foot-long basin made of hard-packed clay with elevated edges. This is believed to be where the winemaking took place.
As we mentioned, one of the things deemed most noteworthy about this site was that it appears that it was used to produce wine in commercial quantities. Not only that, it also shows just how important wine was to the people who lived in the region at the time. Just think of how much time and effort it must have taken to create the winery. Yet, it would have only been in use once a year when the grapes were harvested.
You may think that this merely shows just how keen the prehistoric people were for a steady supply of the good stuff. However, there may have been more meaningful reasoning for the creation of the world’s oldest winery…
Wine For The Dead?
Researchers believe that the wine created in the Areni-1 cave may have also been used for ritual purposes. In addition to winemaking equipment found in the cave, burial pits were also found nearby. This led to the scientists suggesting that the wine could have been drunk to appease the dead or sprinkled on bodies when they were buried. In fact, future studies are planned to explore the links between the burials and winemaking.
The Ancient Winemaking Process
You’re probably wondering exactly how the wine was produced in the world’s oldest winery. Well according to Gregory Areshian, one of the archaeologists who led the excavation, it’s thought that it was quite sophisticated.
It was proposed that the prehistoric winemakers would press the grapes using their feet in the shallow 3.5-foot-long basin that was found. The juices would then drain into the 2-foot-deep vat and be left to ferment into wine. Once this process was complete then the wine would have been placed into jars and stored in the cave. The cave would have been cool and dry, making it a perfect wine cellar!
What Did the Wine Taste Like?
The archaeologists wanted to be certain that they’d found the world’s oldest winery. As a result, they had to chemically analyse the pottery shards of the vats and jars that they’d found. The tests that were completed to find wine residues revealed something rather interesting…
Traces of malvidin were found on the pottery shards. Malvidin is a plant pigment that’s responsible for red wine’s colour. Indeed, ancient wine expert Patrick McGovern believes that the wine made in these caves may have been a dry red. He noted that the grape may have tasted similar to ancient Georgian varieties of grape. These Georgian grapes appear to to be the ancestors of the Pinot Noir grape. Sounds good to us!
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