THE world’s earliest known winery has been uncovered in a cave in the mountains of Armenia. While crumbled today, the edge of the wine press would have kept grape juice from spilling over the sides of the press, archaeologists believe. A vat to press the grapes, fermentation jars and a cup and drinking bowl dating to about 6,000 years ago were discovered in a cave complex by an international team of researchers.While older evidence of wine drinking has been found, this is the earliest example of complete wine production, according to Gregory Areshian of the University of California, Los Angeles, co-director of the excavation. He said: “This is the world’s oldest known installation to make wine.”Mr Areshian – who was deputy prime minister in the first government of the independent Republic of Armenia in 1991 – led a team of archeologists from Armenia, the US and Ireland at the site. The same area – known as Areni-1, in the Little Caucasus Mountains near Armenia’s southern border with Iran – was the site of the discovery last summer of the oldest known leather shoe. It was dated to about 5,500 years ago.The new findings, announced yesterday, are published in the online edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science. The archeologists said that inside the cave was a shallow basin about three feet across positioned to drain into a deep vat. The basin could have served as a wine press where people stamped the grapes with their feet, a method Mr Areshian said was traditional for centuries.
They also found grape seeds, remains of pressed grapes and dozens of dried vines. The seeds were from the same type of grapes – Vitis vinifera vinifera – still used to make wine today. The earliest comparable remains were found in the tomb of the ancient Egyptian king Scorpion I, dating to around 5,100 years ago. Because the wine-making facility was found surrounded by graves, the researchers suggest the wine may have been intended for ceremonial use.Such evidence of wine production implies that the Eurasian grape had already been domesticated in that period, said Patrick McGovern, author of Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer and Other Alcoholic Beverages. Mr Areshian said: “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.”That made sense to Mr McGovern, who noted that wine was the main drink at funeral feasts and was later used for tomb offerings.He said: “Even in lowland regions like ancient Egypt where beer reigned supreme, special wines from the Nile Delta were required as funerary offerings and huge quantities of wine were consumed at major royal and religious festivals.” And he noted that similar vats for treading on grapes and jars for storage have been found around the Mediterranean area.In his books, Mr McGovern has suggested that a “wine culture”, including the domestication of the Eurasian grape, was first consolidated in the mountainous regions around Armenia before moving to the south. “We also know that still, in the villages in the vicinity, the culture of wine is very old and traditional,” Mr Areshian said. The rich red wines produced there are merlots and cabernet sauvignons – Dailymailnews