Winemaking has a venerable place in history. Wine permeated Roman and Greek civilization with a rich cultural influence on literature, recreation, medicine and more. But as the New York Times reports, a recent discovery in an Armenian cave shows that Rome or Greece was not the birthplace of wine. Researchers have found evidence of a complex red wine production site in Armenia dating back some 6,100 years.

Irish, American and Armenian researchers, supported by the National Geographic Society, have revealed the details of winemaking in the same Armenian cave where the world’s oldest-known leather shoe was recently discovered. The team was led by Gregory Areshian, assistant director of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Areshian tells the N.Y. Times that the conditions of the cave are remarkably well-preserved. Tools such as a fermenting mat, storage jars, a press, and a drinking cup were discovered. As the NY Times reports, “Grape seeds, dried pressed grapes, stems, shriveled grapevines and residue were also found, and chemical analyses indicate red wine was produced there.”

Experts are hailing this discovery as important. Dr. Patrick McGovern is an archaeological chemist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. McGovern and other researchers have suggested wine production dates back even farther to 7,400 years, based on discoveries made in an Iranian site. In fact, an ancient Persian fable declares that wine was discovered when a princess tried to poison herself with wine. Instead, she felt euphoric and unconstrained from her duties of courtly life, consequently deciding to go on living.  

McGovern told the Times that the complex nature of the Armenian wine production site insinuates that it was not the first of its kind. The artifacts were discovered near a burial ground containing remains of ancient occupants, suggesting that wine may have been used in ritual services for the dead. Further, there is evidence of dried fruit, nuts, and metals operations in the cave, as well as indications of a social hierarchy. Experts feel this information is proof of a society of higher technological thinking.

Winemaking is generally thought to have originated in Mesopotamia. Priests and royalty feasted on the drink while commoners were regulated to beer-like ales. The cultivation of grapes for wine then developed in ancient Egypt and continued on towards Rome. Today, experts note that wine development exists all over the world except in Antarctica.

Ultimately, it seems that the ancient Armenian vintners’ greatest accomplishment might have been in storage. The Times reports that Areshian and his colleagues will continue to study the grape seeds found in the cave and even hope to cultivate them.

For further reading: