A study published on Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal claims that as far back as 6000 B.C., prehistoric farmers were making wine in the fertile valleys of southern Georgia, the small Caucasus nation sandwiched between Europe and the Middle East. The new findings, which set the dawn of viticulture a millennium earlier than previously thought, make it clearer than ever that wine has been central to the human experience since the earliest vestiges of civilization.
The research hinges on the radiocarbon dating of various clay potsherds, unearthed at two archaeological sites 30 miles south of Tbilisi, that contain traces of tartaric acid—the chemical signature of winemaking.
“Were now a step closer to ascertaining where and when the earliest domestication of the Eurasian grape took place,” Patrick McGovern, the University of Pennsylvania archaeologist who led the study, told Condé Nast Traveler. “These findings shed light on the earliest development of the worlds most important grape species, used in 99.9 percent of the wines we enjoy today.”
Design motifs featuring grapevines can be seen on the 8,000-year-old jar.
Beyond the studies agricultural implications, Dr. McGoverns discoveries challenge the common perception of Neolithic humans as unsophisticated, rock-pounding primitives. If this modest community had the wherewithal to breed, harvest, and ferment grapes on a relatively large scale, what else might they have been capable of?
A testament to their ingenuity, Georgias top winemakers continue to rely on fermentation in kvevri, clay vessels not dissimilar to the jugs dug up by Dr. McGoverns team. Taste a wine made according to this ancient method (from any of Georgias 500 indigenous grapes such as saperavi, rkatsiteli, or chinuri), and consider that its probably not a far cry from the preferred tipple of an 8,000-year-old ancestor.
“With yesterdays news, Georgians feel like they finally have a diploma for what they always knew: that they invented wine,” says Alice Feiring, author of For the Love of Wine: My Odyssey Through the World’s Most Ancient Wine Culture. “And I say, mazel tov to them—even if its obvious that the geopolitical boundaries were not the same in 6000 B.C. as they are today.”
Georgia can now proudly proclaim that its the country with the oldest viticultural tradition in the world, but Dr. McGovern sees his latest discovery as a beginning, not an end. “When it comes to winemaking, every country wants to say they were first, which is understandable, but if theres anything I hope people take away from this study, its that we still have a lot to learn.”