Uncorked! World’s oldest winery discovered
The world’s oldest winery has been discovered in an Armenian cave; so we’ve been drinking alcohol for at least 6000 years. Is that something to celebrate?
A recent discovery in the mountains of Southern Armenia has both archaeologists and wine drinkers thirsty for more.
In a sprawling system of caves, near the border of Iran, an excavation team has discovered what they believe is the oldest winery in the world, dating back to the Copper Age of 4000 BC. Before this, the oldest known winery was in Israel dating back to 1650BC.
Due to the roof of the cave collapsing and sealing the site, the underground winery was remarkably well preserved. There they found clay pots, vats, the remains of pressed grapes and dozens of dried vines. These had remained a buried secret for thousands of years; but no longer.
Archaeologists believe that Armenia is where the grapevine was first domesticated and where the art of wine making began. The skill then spread south to the Mediterranean and Egypt, where wine was closely connected to ceremonies and funeral feasts. There’s wine in an Egyptian tomb around 3000BC; and palm wine was used to wash the body before mummification.
It was the Egyptians who passed on the winemaking skills to Greece, where it became an important part of their civilisation. Ancient Greece was particularly famous for its philosophers who believed wine helped their deep discussions. They would gather together for ‘a symposium’ that literally means ‘a wine-drinking party’.
Some people even claim philosophy was born in Greece because of wine and its loosening effect on the tongue. And they had a god of wine called Dionysus. Unsurprisingly, the worship of Dionysus was a pretty raucous affair.
But there was another interesting find at the Armenian winery. The grape seeds discovered there, were the same type of grape - vitis vinifera – still used to make wine today. Some things don’t change that much even over 6000 years.
These days, Armenia is more famous for its brandy. But the region’s hot dry summers and 300 days of sunshine a year made it ideal for grape growing and a natural birthplace for wine.
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The excavation team say it’s clear this wine was used for ceremonial purposes rather than for getting drunk.
But its mood-changing power was enjoyed by the Greeks; and nowhere are the effects of alcohol, both happy and tragic, better known than in our own culture.
Many say that wine that cheers the soul has always walked hand in hand with civilisation; others fear our binge drinking today might just destroy it.
- ‘Overall, the world is a better place for alcohol.’ Do you agree?
- Do you think people today are more intelligent than those who lived 6000 years ago? We have more information at our fingertips. But does that make us wiser?
- Look at a bottle of wine and particularly at the label. Then create your own wine label. Give your wine a name, a year, an attractive design that will draw people to it, and a percentage figure telling the buyer the alcoholic content of your particular vintage. And is it sweet, medium or dry?
- Research vineyards where the grapes are grown. What are the best geographical conditions for vineyards? How are they affected by the soil and the weather? What makes wines different from each other? And if you owned a vineyard, where would you most like it to be? Armenia? Australia? Liverpool? Kent? Write a short essay called ‘The truth about vineyards.’
Some People Say...
“Alcohol is no better than illegal drugs.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- They weren’t stupid 6000 years ago, were they?
- Not at all. They knew about the watering cycle and how and when to prune the vines. Oh, and they dealt with the pests and understood the process of fermentation, which makes the drink alcoholic. They were highly skilled.
- But the Greeks reckoned wine helped them bring forth great thoughts?
- Aristophanes, their most famous comic playwright, thought so. ‘Quickly!’ he said. ‘Bring me a beaker of wine so that I may wet my brain and say something clever.’
- But alcohol doesn’t always make people clever.
- No, sometimes it has just the opposite effect.
- I wonder if the old wine tasted like wine today.
- Well, they used the same grapes. In fact, I can hear the wine expert now: ‘It’s an amusing little Armenian, but I must confess I prefer the 5991BC from the Vyats Dzor.’