Who Were The First Winemakers?

Posted by Vicki on November 30, 2017

What do you say to your friend who’s showing off some not-so-new tech? “Oh yeah, I did that awhile ago.”   That’s what the Republic of Georgia is saying to the wine world – “We were waaaay ahead of you.”

— So What’s The Story?

Recent archeological finds have confirmed that the first wines were made in the Republic of Georgia about 8,000 years ago, the earliest record of winemaking anywhere. An international group lead by the University of Pennsylvania, the Georgian National Museum and the University of Toronto has found wine residues in six ancient pottery jars that were made between 5400 BC and 5000 BC and other evidence putting the date of viniculture in Georgia between 6000 BC and 5800 BC, during the Neolithic period of the Stone Age. To give you more perspective, these folks were still using tools made of stone and bone.

Other countries, like some in the Middle East, have wanted to claim the title of the first winemakers, but it’s Georgia after all.

The archeologists discovered a cache of evidence proving that the oldest known vintners lived near today’s capital city of Tbilisi, Georgia. They found pieces of ancient pottery vessels and even examined the pollen in the soils and confirmed that grapes were grown in that area. Interestingly, they also found traces of tartaric acid, the signature acid in wine. Radiocarbon analysis put the dates between 6000 BC and 5800 BC.

Their paper details their chemical analyses and other evidence, and their findings of pieces of the large pottery jars used to ferment and store the wine. The jars are even decorated with grape clusters, which had to give them a hint.

Today, winemakers in Georgia still use large clay vessels, called kvevri, like the ones pictured here.  The kvevri are buried up to their necks and are used throughout the winemaking process — from fermentation through maturation.

— Maybe You Knew This From Our Classes . . .

If you came to our 2016 class on Off-The-Beaten-Path Wine Regions, you already know that my view from the more preliminary research was that Georgia was the first about 8.000 years ago. In that class we learned about the Saperavi grape, and the Kakheti wine region, Georgia’s most important wine region.

So look for Kakheti on the label of these wines. Interestingly, the Saperavi grape is one of the few dark-skinned grapes that has pink flesh and juice (known as a teinturier grape) instead of colorless flesh and juice as do most dark-skinned grapes.

To this day, winemaking is an important part of Georgian culture and their wines are highly respected.  So say a toast to the ancient Georgians. They were way ahead of the pack and are still going strong.