Relics of the earliest known winery have been discovered in a cave located in Armenia's mountainous Yeghegnadzor region.
Dating to 6,100 years ago, the site includes a pressing vat, fermentation jars, a cup, drinking bowls, and the remains of crushed grapes, leaves and vines from Vitis vinifera.
The findings were published in the online edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science.
The site, Areni-1, ‘is distinct because the number and volume of the vessels found suggests wine was produced here in commercial qualities from domesticated grapes,’ according to Dr Boris Gasparian, one of the excavation’s leaders.
The site pre-dates others in neighbouring Georgia, thought to be the world’s oldest for wine production. The cave was discovered in 1997.
University of Pennsylvania professor Patrick McGovern, author of the 2010 book Uncorking the Past, who was not part of the research team told Decanter.com, ‘Areni looks like an extremely important site for early winemaking.’
Another scientist, Stefan K. Estreicher, of Texas Tech University and author of Wine: From Neolithic Times to the 21st Century, told the New York Times the Armenian discovery showed how important wine was to that society, as ‘they spent a lot of time and effort to build a facility to use only once a year’ when grapes were harvested.
It is thought that the wine would have been used for ritual purposes, as other evidence points to the cave being used for rituals by high-status individuals. Burial pits were discovered nearby and scientists suggest the wine would have been drunk to appease the dead, or sprinkled on the bodies during burial.
On a related note, Milan-based fashion designer Zorik Gharibian’s ‘Zorah’ vineyards and winery, 4km away from the site in the village of Rind, harvested its first crop of a wine to be entitled ‘6000’, a reference to its neighbour’s age.
Written by David Furer