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03.2011

Massachusetts Beverage Business

archivedOnWineReport

HOW ABOUT A NICE 6OOO-YEAR-OLD RED?

This takes aged wine to a whole new level. An international research team announced in January that scientists have discovered the world’s oldest known winery, hidden amid dozens of prehistoric graves in a cavern in Armenia. Outside a mountain village still known for its wine-making, archaeologists unearthed a large vat set in a platform for treading grapes, along with the well-preserved remains of crushed grapes, seeds and vine leaves, dating to about 61OO years ago – a thousand years older than other comparable finds. On three pot shards, researchers from the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA, found a residue of malvidin, a pigment that gives grapes and wine a dark red hue. The ancient seeds belonged to a domesticated grape variety, known as Vitis vinifera vinifera, that is still used to make red wine today. “It looks like this cave complex was used during the Copper Age as a cemetery and a place of ritual,” said UCLA archaeologist Gregory Areshian, co-director of the excavation effort. “The production of wine could be related to those rituals.”

The winery cavern, called Areni-1, was originally surveyed during the Cold War era by defense planners from the Soviet Union who were looking for cave shelters deep enough to withstand a nuclear attack. Not until 2OO7, however, did archeologists explore the complex of 39 caves situated in a steep canyon at the head of a narrow fertile valley, long planted with orchards and vineyards. As the scientists started to make exploratory trenches across the cave floor, they broke through a thick crust of hardened sheep dung into several layers of remarkably well-preserved textiles, leather and wooden artifacts, dating to a time when metal tools were starting to replace stone implements and the wheel was first coming into use. The researchers have unearthed six graves so far in the cave. They excavated the wine vat, which can hold 14 to 15 gallons of liquid, in September. They also found storage jars, a drinking cup and bowls. The earliest chemical evidence of grape wine, dating to about 74OO years ago, was found on pots unearthed in the Zargos Mountains of Iran. The Armenian find was funded by National Geographic. The team involved archaeologists from the US, Armenia and Ireland’s University College Cork.

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