Georgia has been declared the official birthplace of wine. For now.
Research conducted by an international team of scientists has discovered that viticulture and winemaking in the area could be traced back as far as 6,000 BC – about 1,000 years earlier than the previous ‘oldest’ wine region, in the Zagros mountains in Iran.
The team examined sites at Shulaveris Gora and Gadachrili Gora, ancient settlements 50km south of the capital Tbilisi. The sites had previously been excavated in the 1960s. But using more accurate modern techniques to analyse the grape residue on the ancient jars, the team discovered that grapes were being grown there – and cultivated in a systematic fashion – in early Neolithic times.
‘These results [show]just how important wine was in the social setting of the earliest periods of human village life,’ said Stephen Batiuk of the University of Toronto.
The scientists also found fragments of the region’s 300-litre kvevri clay pots – a means of ageing wine that is still used today, and which is increasingly trendy amongst sommeliers.
So is this definitively the oldest place for wine ever? Yes… but only for now.
‘Other sites in the South Caucasus in Armenia and Azerbaijan might eventually produce even earlier evidence for viniculture than Georgia,’ said Dr Patrick McGovern of the Penn Museum; a specialist in the role of alcohol in the history of humankind. ‘The Taurus Mountains of eastern Turkey are also a prime candidate for further exploration – its monumental sites at the headwaters of the Tigris River, date as far back as 9,500 BC.’
Read all about Georgia’s burgeoning wine scene in the Winter issue of Imbibe, out in December