ARMENIAN WINEMAKING DATING BACK TO 6,100 YEARS. "ARMAS ESTATE"
February 13, 2015
ArmAs is revitalizing Armenia's winemaking legacy by creating elegant
wines that stem from one of our country's best natural resources,
the idyllic terroir of the vine.
It is no coincidence that Armenia, known as the birthplace of the
vine, is also the site of the oldest known winemaking ruins, dating
back to 6,100 years.
Winemaker Emilio Del Medico has paid homage to this heritage by
creating award winning, elegant and distinct wines from estate grown
ArmAs Estate is a picturesque display of agricultural achievement, set
against the backdrop of the inspiring Mount Ararat. The 180 hectares
of previously desolate and disconnected rock-strewn countryside was
diligently transformed into a stunning panorama including vineyards,
orchards, and a world-class winery. The endeavor proudly involved
and united hundreds of people from various villages, countries, and
backgrounds who continue to teach and learn from one another. The
continued realization of the ArmAs Estate is illustrative of progress
through guidance and cooperation, and represents the assimilation of
tradition with development. Indeed, the ensuing ArmAs wines convey
these improvements, and speak especially of the abundant sunshine,
volcanic soil, undulating terrain and magnanimous earth of a resilient
Known as the birthplace of the vine, Armenia is the acknowledged site
of the origins, as well as domestication of the wild grape to its
cultivated contemporary form. This designation has both a biblical
testimony and an archaeological confirmation. According to the Old
Testament, Noah's Ark came to rest at the peak of Mount Ararat. As
the water subsided, Noah and his sons journeyed down to valleys of
modern day Armenia, and upon recognition of the fertile soil in this
unique terrain, they planted the first vines.
In 2010, carbon dating of remains discovered by archaeologists in the
Areni-1 Cave complex, in the Vayots Dzor region definitively proved
Armenia to be the site of the world's oldest-known wine production
facility, dating back to 6,100 years. The remains of grapes, seeds,
and dozens of dried vines were also found in this location, all of
the genus species Vitis Vinifera. Known as the "common grape vine,"
most wines produced in the world today are of this variety and have
their originating roots in the surrounding regions.
ARMENIAN WINEMAKING DATING BACK TO 6,100 YEARS. "ARMAS ESTATE"
Posted 14 February 2015 - 10:04 AM
ARMENIAN WINEMAKING DATING BACK TO 6,100 YEARS. "ARMAS ESTATE"
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Posted 14 October 2016 - 09:50 AM
Wine has been a part of human life, culture, and diet, since time immemorial. In ancient Greece, wine was praised by poets, historians, and artists, and was frequently referred to in the works of Aesop and Homer.
Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, represented not only the intoxicating power of wine but also its social and beneficial influences.
Wine is far older than recorded history and could date back over 20 million years ago, as fermenting yeasts evolved together with fruit bearing flowering plants.
People began to grow grapes probably a little after they began growing wheat, around 8000 BC. In ancient times, wine was considered to be a magical, spontaneous gift of nature.Hellenistic mosaics discovered close to the city of Paphos depicting Dionysos, god of wine.
The oldest winery in the world has been uncovered in a cave in the mountains of Armenia. An international team of researchers discovered drinking bowl, a grape press, a cup, and fermentation jars dating to about 6,100 years ago in the cave at the area called Areni-1 in Armenia.
Older evidence of wine drinking has been found, but this is the earliest example of complete wine production.
The Areni-1 cave complex is located in the village of Areni in the Vayots Dzor province of the Republic of Armenia. 7 months before the winery was discovered, the world’s oldest leather shoe, the Areni-1 shoe, was found in the same cave. The village of Areni it’s known for its wine production.The entrance of the Areni-1 cave complex. Photo Credit
The press and wide, shallow vat that was found in the cave are similar to foot-stomping type equipment used by people throughout the region even up into the 19th century.
Botanists examined the find say it was the species Vitis vinifera, the same one used to produce the vast majority of wine today.
Gregory Areshian, co-director of the excavation and assistant director of the University of California Los Angeles’s Cotsen Institute of Archaeology says the wine would be comparable to a modern unfiltered red wine and may have had a similar taste to a merlot.Panorama of the Areni-1 site along the Arpa River. Photo Credit
As Areshian, says before this winery was discovered, the oldest known winery was in Israel and dated to 1650 BC.
Archaeologists could not tell a lot about the people who distilled and drank the wine, but for them, it’s clear that the people who produced wine in the cave winery used it for ceremonial purposes. Probably for funeral ceremonies, since it was discovered that the cave was once an important cemetery site.The archaeological site of Areni-1 in 2012. Photo Credit
This discovery shows that people developed agriculture and that they had horticultural skills even back in 4,000 BC. And as Areshian says, “Producing this wine would have been a 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.”
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Posted 02 November 2016 - 07:45 AM
Travelers Today By Angela Ordonez
Updated: Nov 01, 2016 02:33 PM EDT
According to news report by Smithsonian, an Armenian wine expert highlighted the best places to experience the rebirth of a wine culture stifled under Soviet rule
Armenia has been recognized as the foundation of wine making. Even the 18th Century BC Kings of Urartu coined the ancient Armenia as the "land of the vineyards".
Assyrian armies wondered the massive quantities of its vines and trees. In Genesis, it is in the mountain of Ararat where Noah first planted its seed as explained in Smithsonian.
The report also states that Armenia's culture in traditional winemaking had been changed during the Soviet rule.
Researchers in the University of California, Los Angeles and the Armenian Institute of Archeology and Ethnography, discovered the oldest winery in southeastern Armenia, in the village of Areni.
Driven by the recent discovery, a new generation of post-communism vintners has set out to regain Armenia's winemaking legacy.
Vahe is committed to reinvigorating the Armenia's wine culture. He said that Armenian viticulture is undergoing a "rebirth".
"There's a very good, positive energy in Armenia now," Vahe said.
"It's the right time to discover what's happening", he added in a statement in Smithsonian.
To experience the best of Armenia's wine renaissance, Mr. Vahe Keushguerian recommends the following Wineries destinations, as specified in the Smithsonian news report:
Zorah Wines in Rind, Vayots Dzor - the Zorah Karasi Areni Noir is one of the best wines in the world, as Bloomberg named it.
Old Bridge in Yeghegnadzor, Vayots Dzor - Old Bridge B&B is a family-run vineyard that doubles as a bed and breakfast. Guests can also visit the ancient bridge to which the winery is named.
Hin Areni in Areni, Vayots Dzor - the winery features state-of-the-art equipment, but the team at Hin Areni handpicks their grapes and stores them in barrels made from local, Artskah oak.
Getnatoun in Vernashen, Vayots Dzor - uses natural fermentation methods and a meticulous production process to craftaward-winning wine varieties
Van Ardi in Ashtarak, Aragatsotn - spreads out over rolling hills in picturesque Ashtarak, an ancient winemaking region comparable to Vayots Dzor.
Mr. Vahe was asked what needs to be done to revive the Armenia's wine industry. His answers tackle about the need to reacquire our wine culture, pointers on the challenges regarding narrative of the industry and marketing
"I am a positive person and I see huge potential in the future of Armenian wine. We are blessed with good vineyards. But one thing we lack is institutional support. We don't have the resources for research," he said during his interview with Exotic Wine Travel.
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Posted 15 February 2017 - 09:19 AM
The enormous 240-gallon clay vessel, or karas, was nestled snugly in the corner of Asli Saghatelyan’s maran (storage cellar) in Chiva, a modest village in the Vayots Dzor region of Armenia. Asli and her son Mushegh watched with curious faces as I beheld their egg-shaped earthenware with awe.
The Saghatelyans no longer use this forlorn family heirloom, the girth of which exceeds the width of the door’s frame. It belonged to the family’s now-deceased patriarch, who used it to make homemade wine through a traditional process of fermentation and storage that people in this region have used for millennia. At one point, the family possessed at least five of them. Today only two are still intact.
This scene of giant karases, now sitting dusty and idle for decades in the basements of Armenia’s villagers, is a strangely common one in this particular region. The villagers don’t use them anymore, but the pots are so large they cannot be transported it out of their homes without the karas being smashed, or the wall of the basement being demo-ed. You can imagine the residents of Chiva rarely choose the latter option.
The karases I saw that day date back to mid-twentieth century, but it’s not the age of the Minasyans’ and the Saghatelyans’ pots that made them so interesting to me. It’s the threat of their extinction in the region. Karases have had an uninterrupted six millennia presence in this part of the world, but only in the last few decades, they’ve fallen into obscurity.
Boris Gasparyan, a researcher at the Institute for Archaeology and Ethnography (IAE) in Armenia’s National Academy of Sciences, who led the excavations at the now-famous Areni-1 cave complex, has spent much time pondering the phenomenon of karas.
His interest intensified after he and his team discovered one of the world’s oldest wine production facilities in Areni-1. The numerous clay pots uncovered at the site once held some of mankind’s earliest experiments in viticulture. Chemical analyses even allowed researchers to speculate that ancient peoples mixed wine and blood together, leading wine expert Tim Atkin to joke in 2012 when he visited the site, that it “gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘full-bodied wine.’”
The value of karases across millennia appears to be, judging by its morphology and physical evolution, defined primarily by their intimate relationship to wine. Gasparyan says that any other functions were secondary, though “people used them even as coffins!”
In the first millennium BC, in the Kingdom of Van (also known as the Urartian Kingdom), karases reached their peak—in size, technology, and quality. Wine had become a valuable commercial commodity since many neighboring empires lacked the ideal climates for growing grapes. “We can even compare wine to U.S. dollars,” Gasparyan said. “Wine was circulating. It had great value. It was money. It was not only for consumption.”
Urartian kings grew desperate to develop methods of storing their precious commodity in large quantities. Experimenting with clay forms, which had been the material used for storing liquids in many ancient civilizations, provided an immediate solution. Pottery eventually developed into a separate and thriving industry in Urartu, second only to agriculture, and just as the history of wine is critical to understanding karas, its relationship to clay is just as important.
According to an article investigating Urartian karases by historians Leman Haupt and Grigor Khapantsyan in the 1950s, craftsmen would make six to ten karases simultaneously, using their fingers to shape ribs around the opening in an intricate process of coiling. But by far the most complicated element in making them, distinguishing the vessels from other clay-made instruments, was the process of drying and baking, which required an oven that could fit the enormous size of an Urartian karas.
Archaeological excavations in 1949 in the administrative and economic center of Teishebaini (Karmir Blour in Armenian) confirmed the advanced state of the Urartians’ karas making. In this famous site twenty minutes outside of Armenia’s capital, researchers found cellars containing rows and rows of hundreds of giant vessels, with cuneiform inscriptions on their rims indicating an intricate system of labelling volume. This cellar alone stored upward of 100,000 gallons of wine.
Karases maintained value long after Urartian rule. By the early twentieth century, one karas was worth an estimated three or four hundred rubles, about the cost of a cow. Since this was a large sum for most villagers, it was important to regulate an insurance policy. In 1184, Mkhitar Gosh devoted a chapter to karases in Datastanagirk, Armenia’s first legal document, providing purchasers with a clause that reads eerily similar to a one-year warranty.
When Armenians moved toward industrial winemaking in the twentieth century, demand for these traditional storage vessels inevitably decreased. Mass production in Soviet factories meant wine was now available in grocery stores. Domestic winemaking—and by association, karases—spiralled into obsolescence in Armenia’s developed areas.Excavations in Shnogh, Lori Province, in 2009 revealed a thirteenth century winery. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Suren Hobosyan)
In Vayots Dzor and Armavir, regions historically tied to winemaking, rural communities continued using karas well into the 1990s, but the generation that used them is nearly gone. Asli Saghatelyan told me that after her father-in-law passed away, her children opted to use other methods of homemade wine production. “Different generations gained different interests. My son knows how to make wine using karas, but we prefer to use more modern technology, as the karas is quite a hassle.”
Professor Suren Hobosyan, head of the ethnography department at the IAE, can attest to those difficulties. In addition to the karas, he says there was an elaborate “kit” of vessels and instruments for domestic wine production. It takes forty days to make wine in the karas, and once it is sealed it will stay good for years. However, when you open it, you have to consume it very quickly—approximately ten to fifteen days—before it spoils.
For this reason, opening a karas became a ceremonial ritual. Many rural communities saved karas openings for weddings and other joyful events. Sometimes the opening was its own cause for celebration, and villagers would invite their friends and family to partake in the festivities.
Which brings us back to the last generation of giant egg-shaped pots waiting to be disposed of in villagers’ basements. Who, if anyone, still uses the karas today? How were Armenia’s Georgian neighbors able to retain this tradition and go on to gain international recognition for it? And, perhaps most importantly, is there anyone alive in Armenia who still knows how to make them?(Photo courtesy of drinktheworld.com)
Karine Vann is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn and a storytelling contributor to My Armenia, where she writes about Armenia’s rich natural and cultural heritage.
Posted 03 March 2017 - 10:50 AM
Armenian wineries recorded unprecedented success at the “MUNDUS VINI 20th Grand International Wine Awards” held in Germany on February 25. The Ministry of Agriculture reports the products presented by Armenian wine companies won 23 medals in total, including 10 gold and 13 silver.
As the release informs, in total 58 varieties of Armenian sparkling and fortified wine represented by 19 wineries were presented to the highly qualified international jury comprising around 200 oenologists, wine-makers, professional wine traders, sommeliers and expert journalists with Armenian winemaker, Head of “Trinity” Company Artem Parseghian among them.
The competition registered some 6,000 entries from 44 countries representing the major wine-growing regions in the world. With number of prizes won Armenia left behind countries such as Georgia (4 Gold, 7 Silver), Moldova (8 Gold, 12 Silver), Macedonia (6 Gold, 3 Silver), Romania (6 Gold, 5 Silver), China (1 Gold, 1 Silver). In terms of the overall medals won, Armenia shared the 14th position with New Zealand and Hungary.
Meantime, in the scope of the international award the Director at “Golden Grape Armas” winery Viktoria Aslanyan made a presentation about Armenian wines that was recognized as the best presentation.
Armenian wineries’ participation in the event was facilitated by the Viticulture and Winemaking Foundation of Armenia supported by the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI).
As the press service of the Ministry of Agriculture reports, the main goal of the participation at the fair was to introduce the Armenian wine to foreign buyers and seek expansion of the consumption market. The ministry has also released the list of the winners.
Posted 14 September 2017 - 08:32 AM
In 1984, Charlie Papazian authored The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, a landmark text (now in its fourth edition) that laid out for the first time in simple, straightforward terms, the basic formula for making beer in the comfort of one’s home.
Papazian soon became the guardian of an entire generation of brewers and his calming mantra, “Relax, Don’t Worry, Have a Homebrew,” set the cultural stage for beer to become more than just a beverage in modern America, but a way of life. The last few decades have witnessed the number of breweries in the United States jump–or rather, skyrocket–from a meager 100 the year his book was published to just over 5000, as reported last spring by the Brewer’s Association (an organization Papazian himself helped found).(Photo via brewersassociation.org)
But while nothing jostles one’s beard hairs like a freshly poured Northern California IPA, this barley-based beverage had to travel a long way before it became the drink of choice for tatted, plaid-wearing urbanites across the nation. The oldest proto-beers trace back, not to Europe and our colonial forefathers, but to the Fertile Crescent, and one of the first known written mentions of it in the 4th century BCE come from the travel diary of the ancient Greek mercenary, Xenophon, as he wandered across what was then, quite coincidentally, Papazian’s ancestral homeland: Armenia.
Though ethnicity has never been a motivating factor in Papazian’s beer obsession, one must admit, it is rather serendipitous. And even more so now that the very movement he’s helped spearhead in America, filled with DIY microbreweries and brewpubs, has finally made its way full circle. As remarkable as it sounds, Armenia might just be both one of the oldest and one of the youngest nations in the history of beer making.
Certainly, much has transpired since Xenophon sipped on that strange barley concoction in the Armenian highlands over two thousand years ago, but unfortunately for beer, the well-documented history of wine in the region usually takes center-stage. The little we know about Armenia’s historic brewing habits unfolds primarily within the last two hundred years and, like most ‘then-and-now’ type stories in former Soviet countries, it is defined by the rise and fall of that peculiar Russian breed of socialism we call the U.S.S.R.
In the late-19th century, when we start to see the first mentions of beer factories in Armenia, beer was emerging as a lucrative industry in the Russian Empire. Factories were opened in Alexandrapol (now Gyumri) and Kars, areas which had historically inherited European brewing techniques from medieval monks and which were also well-disposed to growing local ingredients, like barley. While Kars is no longer part of modern-day Armenia, the beer factory in Gyumri still exists and though it operates out of a newer building, the historic factory from 1898 has been preserved and curious, beer history buffs visiting the area can take tours.
In Yerevan, the most famous factory was Zanga Brewery, located in the picturesque Hrazdan River Gorge. Founded in 1892 by Harutyun Avedyants, the son of a successful factory owner. Zanga produced only one style of beer, a traditional German Bock. For a while, business was good and the brand achieved some international success, both across the Russian Empire and in Europe (even winning some awards in Naples and Milan).Hrazdan gorge in Yerevan where Harutyun Avedyants' Zanga beer factory was located. (Image via Sputnik.am)
In 1917, Lenin’s communists seized power and all major factories were nationalized. When Armenia became an S.S.R., Avedyants, like many other successful entrepreneurs, lost his business. Without the specialized expertise required for beer production, however, the business began to go under. So, on March 1st, 1924, in a sobering twist of fate, Avedyants was hired as an employee of the very factory he had founded over thirty years earlier. After his death in 1926, the factory closed and there would not be beer production in Armenia again until after World War II.
These were the dark ages for beer in the U.S.S.R. Alcoholism was a huge problem affecting worker productivity, so the state began actively discouraging alcohol consumption. When beer making finally did return to Armenia in the 1950s, it did so with few innovations. Picking up where they left off, beers made in the traditional German pilsner style, popular in the Russian Empire, came to dominate industry. That, combined with anti-drinking propaganda, resulted in an extremely homogeneous market in which any variety from outside the Iron Curtain had to be procured through an underground black market.An anti-alcohol Soviet propaganda poster from 1929; the text reads: “A friend of vodka is an enemy of the Trade Union”. (Image via redavantgarde)
A network of subversive beer drinkers emerged, gathering in Soviet Armenia’s watering holes. The good stuff was possible to find – for the right price – if you had the right acquaintances. Novelist Gurgen Khanjyan recalls these days nostalgically, “The old Yerevan beer lovers were not small in numbers… We used to talk about everything, but there was a sense that an invisible eye was watching us. The beer lover of an independent country is different. He enjoys beer differently, freely... unafraid, uninhibited…”
So while Americans in the 1980s were busy heeding the calming mantra of Charlie Papazian (“Relax, Don’t Worry, Have a Homebrew!”) and opening their hearts and minds to the endless possibilities being created by the growing craft beer movement, Soviet citizens were scuttering through dimly lit alleys, risking their freedoms for a highly-coveted lager from nearby Czech Republic.
Naturally, a more liberal market brought about by the fall of the Soviet Union and Armenia’s independence has done wonders for the alcohol industry in Armenia. According to a reportfrom 2015, consumption in 2014 was 24.5 million liters of beer – a figure which is up 32% from 2010. But while these numbers sound promising, 80% of beer consumed in Armenia is produced by only a handful of mainstream breweries who offer a generic product, which is affordable, but deviates little from the pilsners of Soviet times.
Fortunately, 2012 signified the beginning of a cultural shift with the opening of several new beer-oriented establishments in the city. “Back then, there was a stereotype that breweries were mostly places for men,” observes founder Armen Ghazaryan, founder of one of Armenia’s first craft brewpubs, Beer Academy, “So from the very first day we focused on being a family place.” Ghazaryan’s establishment has evolved from an uncertain novelty to a successful business with a loyal following from locals of all ages.
But craft beer as a concerted cultural movement in Armenia didn’t take off until the spring of 2016 with the launch of Dargett. Founded by two brothers, Aren and Hovhannes Durgarian, Dargett is a brewpub that has embarked on countless firsts since it opened: the first IPA made on Armenian soil, the first cider made from Armenian apples, the first fruit beer in Armenia (a lovely ale infused with Armenia’s most abundant and symbolic fruit: apricot). Everything they touch turns to ‘first’.(Image via Dargett)
The variety Dargett’s founders strive for is impressive, even for longtime veterans of brewing; around twenty styles are rotating on tap at any given point, all of which have been crafted on site in the restaurant’s downstairs dining area where behemoth, steel tanks transported from Italy last year are visible to diners behind large panes of glass. “I’m sure they [mainstream brewers in Armenia] think we’re naïve lunatics,” says Aren Durgarian, “Because why brew in variety when they’re selling millions of just one style?”
But despite this skepticism, Dargett and Beer Academy have both evolved into highly successful businesses with plans for expansion, even while serving what might arguably be the world’s most affordable craft beer at less than $2 a pop. “We need to be able to reach young people who may not have access to this product if it were too expensive," the Durgarians explain, "We want them to test our beer, since the youth is the main component in any cultural revolution.”Dargett co-Founder, Aren Durgarian (Biayni Sahari/Yerevan Magazine)
The price is all the more surprising since starting a brewery in a country like Armenia is a very expensive and risky undertaking. Unlike brewers in the U.S., with access to developed supply chains and expedited shipping models, the Durgarians say they must order their ingredients from abroad at least a year in advance. A local supply chain, while not out of the question, just isn’t realistic right now.
But what is an Armenian beer if it’s made with all foreign ingredients? And what did Xenophon’s mysterious barley drink of yesteryear taste like? One can only hope that consumers’ growing curiosity will someday soon provide the incentive for answering these questions.
Posted 03 February 2018 - 10:41 AM
PanARMENIAN.Net - A medieval wine press has been unearthed during construction work near a school in the Armenian city of Yeghegnadzor, Argishti Mikayelyan, a Facebook user, said in a post on Friday, February 2.
Excavations were carried out director of the Geological Museum of Yeghegnadzor, archaeologist Karen Azaryan.
“This (the find - ed.) comes to prove that Vayots Dzor province has had a wealthy winemaking culture since ancient times which has survived and continues developings,” the user said.
The 6100-year-old Areni winery was discovered in 2007 in the Areni-1 cave complex in the village of Areni again in the Vayots Dzor province. The excavations of the winery were completed in 2010.
Posted 05 May 2018 - 08:19 AM
Barefoot winemakers likely worked in cave where oldest leather shoe was found.
by James Owen
As if making the oldest known leather shoe wasn't enough, a prehistoric people in what's now Armenia also built the world's oldest known winery, a new study says.
Undertaken at a burial site, their winemaking may have been dedicated to the dead—and it likely required the removal of any fancy footwear.
Near the village of Areni, in the same cave where a stunningly preserved, 5,500-year-old leather moccasin was recently found, archaeologists have unearthed a wine press for stomping grapes, fermentation and storage vessels, drinking cups, and withered grape vines, skins, and seeds, the study says.
"This is the earliest, most reliable evidence of wine production," said archaeologist Gregory Areshian of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
"For the first time, we have a complete archaeological picture of wine production dating back 6,100 years," he said.
The prehistoric winemaking equipment was first detected in 2007, when excavations co-directed by Areshian and Armenian archaeologist Boris Gasparyan began at the Areni-1 cave complex.
In September 2010 archaeologists completed excavations of a large, 60-centimeter-deep vat buried next to a shallow, 1-meter-long basin made of hard-packed clay with elevated edges.
The installation suggests the Copper Age vintners pressed their wine the old-fashioned way, using their feet, Areshian said.
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, according to Areshian, who co-authored the new study, published Tuesday in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
To test whether the vat and jars in the Armenian cave had held wine, the team chemically analysed pottery shards—which had been radiocarbon-dated to between 4100 B.C. and 4000 B.C.—for tell-tale residues.
The chemical tests revealed traces of malvidin, the plant pigment largely responsible for red wine's colour.
"Malvidin is the best chemical indicator of the presence of wine we know of so far," Areshian said.
Ancient-wine expert Patrick E. McGovern, a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, agrees the evidence argues convincingly for a winemaking facility.
One thing that would make the claim a bit stronger, though, said McGovern, who wasn't involved in the study, is the presence of tartaric acid, another chemical indicator of grapes. Malvidin, he said, might have come from other local fruits, such as pomegranates.
Combined with the malvidin and radiocarbon evidence, traces of tartaric acid "would then substantiate that the facility is the earliest yet found," he said.
"Later, we know that small treading vats for stomping out the grapes and running the juice into underground jars are used all over the Near East and throughout the Mediterranean," he added.
Winery Discovery Backed Up by DNA?
McGovern called the discovery "important and unique, because it indicates large-scale wine production, which would imply, I think, that the grape had already been domesticated."
As domesticated vines yield much more fruit than wild varieties, larger facilities would have been needed to process the grapes.
McGovern has uncovered chemical and archaeological evidence of wine, but not of a winery, in northern Iran dating back some 7,000 years—around a thousand years earlier than the new find.
But the apparent discovery that winemaking using domesticated grapevines emerged in what's now Armenia appears to dovetail with previous DNA studies of cultivated grape varieties, McGovern said. Those studies had pointed to the mountains of Armenia, Georgia, and neighbouring countries as the birthplace of viticulture.
McGovern—whose book Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages traces the origins of wine—said the Areni grape perhaps produced a taste similar to that of ancient Georgian varieties that appear to be ancestors of the Pinot Noir grape, which results in a dry red.
To preserve the wine, however, tree resin would probably have been added, he speculated, so the end result may actually have been more like a Greek retsina, which is still made with tree resin.
In studying ancient alcohol, he added, "our chemical analyses have shown tree resin in many wine samples."
Ancient Drinking Rituals
While the identities of the ancient, moccasin-clad wine quaffers remain a mystery, their drinking culture likely involved ceremonies in honour of the dead, UCLA's Areshian believes.
"Twenty burials have been identified around the wine-pressing installation. There was a cemetery, and the wine production in the cave was related to this ritualistic aspect," Areshian speculated.
Significantly, drinking cups have been found inside and around the graves.
McGovern, the ancient-wine expert, said later examples of ancient alcohol-related funerary rituals have been found throughout the world.
In ancient Egypt, for example, "you have illustrations inside the tombs showing how many jars of beer and wine from the Nile Delta are to be provided to the dead," McGovern said.
"I guess a cave is secluded, so it's good for a cemetery, but it's also good for making wine," he added. "And then you have the wine right there, so you can keep the ancestors happy."
Future work planned at Areni will further investigate links between the burials and winemaking, study leader Areshian said.
Winemaking as Revolution
The discovery is important, the study team says, because winemaking is seen as a significant social and technological innovation among prehistoric societies.
Vine growing, for instance, heralded the emergence of new, sophisticated forms of agriculture, Areshian said.
"They had to learn and understand the cycles of growth of the plant," he said. "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," he added.
University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Naomi Miller commented that "from a nutritional and culinary perspective, wine expands the food supply by harnessing the otherwise sour and unpalatable wild grape.
"From a social perspective, for good and ill," Miller said, "alcoholic beverages change the way we interact with each other in society."
The ancient-winery study was led by UCLA's Hans Barnard and partially funded by the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)
LEAD IMAGE: An apparent wine press (in front of sign) and fermentation vat (right) emerge during a dig in Armenia. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF GREGORY ARESHIAN
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