Planet Earth

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

80beatsBy Andrew MosemanJan 12, 2011 4:03 PM

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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

. Related Content: 80beats: Accidental Awesomeness: Ancient Nubians Made Antibiotic Beer

80beats: Science Explains: Why You Can’t Drink Red Wine With Fish

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DISCOVER: The Chemistry of Wine-Making

Image: Gregory Areshian

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