Archaeologists Unearth the World’s Oldest Wine Press

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REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

Talk about vintage. Archeologists working in what is now southern Armenia have discovered the world’s oldest winery, and used biochemicals to identify a 6,000-year old dry red wine.

“This is, so far, the oldest relatively complete wine production facility, with its press, fermentation vats and storage jars in situ,” says Hans Barnard, the lead author of an article about the excavation published today in the Journal of Archaeological Science. The caveside winery, they hypothesize, did not exist to supply wine for casual drinkers. It was more likely used to produce a special brew for mourners attending ceremonies at a nearby cemetery.

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Using carbon dating, the archaeologists determined that a desiccated grape vine found near the wine press was grown around 4000 B.C. That pre-dates all other known wine-making sites by 1,000 years. The same team of American, Armenian and Irish archaeologists found the world’s oldest leather shoe—around 5,500 years old—in the same cave complex last year.

“This was a relatively small installation related to the ritual inside the cave. For daily consumption they would have had much larger wine presses in the regular settlement,” Gregory Areshian, a team member from the University of California, Los Angeles, told Reuters.  Areshian, who was deputy prime minister of the newly independent Republic of Armenia in 1991, also explained that the wine-makers produced merlots and cabernet sauvignons. The press itself is a shallow clay basin three feet in diameter, and is surrounded by grape seeds and dried-out grape vines.

The cave complex, known as Areni-1, is in the Little Caucasus Mountains near Armenia’s southern border with Iran. (via ABC News, Australia.)

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