Armenia is the birthplace of wine

Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle from American Museum of Natural History, with their book “A Natural History of Wine”, re-write the history of wine. They start from the cave in Armenia and trace the thousands of years of history of the techniques that are used even today.

In 2010, when the oldest leather shoe (5500 years old) in the world was found in a cave in the Areni village in Armenia, the archaeologists who achieved this great discovery also revealed another milestone in the history of humanity. In the excavations, a winepress, a fermentation vessel, a wine cellar, wine glasses and dried wine grapes, which are thousands of years old, are found. The estimations indicate that the history of wine started 6100 years ago in the oldest winery in this cave in Areni.

This discovery triggered the scientists who are wine-enthusiasts. Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle from American Museum of Natural History, with their book “A Natural History of Wine”, re-write the history of wine. They start from the cave in Armenia and traces the thousands of years of history of the techniques that are used even today. 


Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle say, “You can consider fermentation as a living culture. When people adopted a sedentary life, fermenting the grapes was something they did almost immediately.” So, we will trace the history of this living culture back to its roots in Armenia. 

Though we don't know who were these wine-loving people with leather shoes, their culture of drinking comes from the rituals that they performed for honoring the deceased. 

Working in “Areni-1” cave, archaeologist Gregory Areshian says, “We discovered that almost 20 people were buried around the winepress. The wine production in this cave is related to the rituals. I guess this cave is convenient for burying the deceased, since it is secluded. But it is also a good place to produce wine. There was wine at their elbow, so they were able to please their ancestors.”

Deep into the cave

Archaeologists work slowly. On the layers they reached recently, they came across the traces of a life, which is dated to a 6000-years-long era between Neolithic Age and Bronze Age, that they don't know about so far. In this era, sedentary life was put in order in Near East and the people who had been living in Areni cave were burying the deceased deep into the cave with their belongings. 

Authors Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle say, “When you pass the luminous and spacious part at the entrance of the cave and move to the depths, the natural light ends and the light beams, which illuminate the long passageway that is linked to the deep hole on the left side, begin.”

Cool and dry inner space preserved the organic materials which would be rotten away otherwise. Containing the tools that had been used in daily life during that era, Areni-1 is the first known winery that ancient people left for us. 

DNA studies

This cave, which contains a huge fermentation vessel and a peculiar winepress, is very important, because the scientists who try to map the history of wine usually find indirect evidences; for instance, chemical residue in a butt which is thought to be used for producing wine... However, in the wine-pressing floor of Aren-1, broken pottery pieces are found. On those pieces, residue of grapes, which is estimated to be 6000-6100 years old with carbon dating, are detected. 

Recently completed DNA studies show that the grape was firstly domesticated in Southern Caucasus. And there are sufficient archaeological evidence which shows that viniculture was spread to Mesopotamia, Jordan and Egypt 5000 years ago. We can say that viniculture began way before the winery in Aren-1. 

Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle say, “One of the surprising aspects of the winery in Aren-1 was this: there is also a 'cemetery' of earthenware jars. This jars also contain the residue of people of various ages. Bodies of the men had been cremated and the dissected parts of the bodies of women and children were found in wine glasses made of animal horns.”

Working in Aren-1, chief archaeologist Boris Gasparyan says that wine production and rituals like cremation, dissection and burial are closely related. Authors say, “If Gasparyan's claims are true, it can be said that Aren-1 also started the tradition of using fermented drinks in funeral ceremonies, which we often see in the later periods of ancient time.” 

From the birthplace of wine 

In Armenia and Georgia, wine is still produced with the techniques that were used in Aren-1. Grapes ferment in clay potteries that are called “karas” in Armenian and “kvervi” in Georgian.  

In Armenia, the most commonly used grapes in viniculture are the ones that are named after Aren Village. They are bottled as “Zorah Karasi Areni Noir” with the initiation of Zorik Gharibian.  Gharibian lived in Italy for a while and went back to Armenia for reviving the wine industry. He made efforts to use this “karas” tradition. 

In Georgia, “kvervi” wine is produced with same techniques. The wine producers try to maintain the ancient tradition with the wines that are bottled as “Iago Bitarishvili Chinuri Qvevri 8" and "Khareba Saparevi". 

Levon Bağış: Wine with ancient techniques

Before Aren-1 was explored, the oldest winery was found in China and the oldest evidence of viniculture was found in "Hajji Firuz Tepe" in Zargos Mountains. Findings in Hajji Firuz Tepe showed that ancient people kept wine in earthenware jars. According to Holy Scripture, wine was firstly produced in Anatolia. After the Biblical Flood, the first thing that Noah did after arriving at Mount Ararat was to plant a vineyard and produce wine. And Noah was a heavy drinker; according to the Scripture, he got drunk sometimes. In Torah, this event is narrated as the following: "On the 17th day of 7th month, the ark came to rest on Mount Ararat... And Noah began to be a man of the soil and he planted a vineyard. And he drank of the wine and got drunk." Benjamin Franklin, one of the biggest wine-lovers in history, interprets this myth as the following: "Before Noah, men having only water to drink, could not find thetruth. Accordingly...they became abominably wicked, and they were justly exterminated by the water they loved to drink. This good man, Noah, having seen that all his contemporaries had perished by this unpleasant drink, took a dislike to it; and God, to relieve his dryness, created the vine and revealed to him the art of making le vin. By the aid of this liquid he unveiled more and more truth." 

Armenia, the birthplace of wine like Eastern Anatolia and Georgia, produces only 5 million liters of wine per year, because the country is underpopulated and cannot export wine. Their wine is usually old-school, semi-sweet wine peculiar to Iron Curtain countries. However, they began to produce wine from local grapes like Voske Hat, Hınduğnı, Kangun and Areni and various internationally famous grapes. 

In ancient viniculture, large earthenware jars had been used for producing and preserving wine. Then, butts made of oak were began to be used, because it was thought that wine tastes better thanks to those butts. Except from Transcaucasia (the region containing Armenia, Georgia and Eastern Anatolia), wine is not produced with these ancient techniques almost nowhere in the world. Gelveri Wines in Cappadocia  adopted these techniques from Georgia and it is the only wine producer in Turkey that uses those techniques.

The wines of these regions, which are acknowledged as the birthplace of wine due to their historical and geographical features, will be get more and more popular in future, thanks to their grape varieties and cultural heritage.  


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Fatih Gökhan Diler