The earliest known wine makers

Your glass of wine may stem from a tradition that began 6,000 years ago, in Armenia.

In a cave near the village of Areni in Armenia, archaeologists have uncovered the oldest-known wine-making facility, dating back to 4100 B.C.

Image Credit: Klaus Post

The archaeologists found a shallow clay basin that served as a wine press, where ancient vintners appeared to have juiced the grapes by stomping on them with their feet.

No one had cleaned up after that last batch of wine, leaving behind grape seeds and the remains of pressed grapes and vines in the basin. Those seeds were identified as a grape species that’s still used in modern wine-making.

The processing of such a large amount of grapes indicated that the ancient vintners were cultivating grapes, and not gathering them from the wild. Juice from the grapes drained from the basin into a deep vat, large enough to hold about 15 gallons of juice, where it was left to ferment. The wine was then stored in jars, in the cool dry cave that made for an ideal wine cellar.

Also found at the excavation site was a cylindrical cup made of animal horn, along with an intact clay drinking bowl, and many bowl fragments. Shards of pottery, what was left of the vessels that once stored the wine, showed signs of leftovers, a dark gray stain. Chemical analysis revealed traces of malvidin, a deep red plant pigment that gave grapes their red color. It not only confirmed the making of wine from grapes, but also suggests that it was the first known red wine.

It appears that the ancient vintners created the facility for a specific purpose. Several burial sites near to the wine press, some which also held drinking cups, suggest that the drinking of wine played a role in the funeral rituals of those ancient people.

In an interview with National Geographic Daily News, archaeologist Gregory Areshian of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the co-director of the excavation suggested that the cultivation of grapes was the beginning of a more advanced form of ancient agriculture. He said:

They had to learn and understand the cycles of growth of the plant. They had to understand how much water was needed, how to prevent fungi from damaging the harvest, and how to deal with flies that live on the grapes. The site gives us a new insight into the earliest phase of horticulture — how they grew the first orchards and vineyards.

So the next time you enjoy a glass of wine, remember, the tradition might date back to 4100 B.C.

Shireen Gonzaga