Wine making has been going on longer than anyone ever knew

A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou, my Neolithic darling.

Archaeologists working in the Republic of Georgia have uncovered evidence that human beings have been savoring the fruit of the vine for almost 1,000 years longer than previously thought.

The scientists, participants in the Gadachrili Gora Regional Archaeological Project Expedition (GRAPE), a joint undertaking between the University of Toronto and the Georgian National Museum, discovered fragments of 8,000-year-old ceramic jars whose residue contained tartaric acid, the fingerprint compound for wine and grapes, according to Eurekalert.

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The pottery was discovered in Gadachrili Gora and Shulaveris Gora, Early Ceramic Neolithic sites about 31 miles from Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi. They are nearly 1,000 years older than the fragments of wine containers found in the Zagros Mountains of Iran, which previously provided the first evidence of winemaking.

"We believe this is the oldest example of the domestication of a wild-growing Eurasian grapevine solely for the production of wine," said Stephen Batiuk, a senior research associate in the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations and the Archaeology Center at the University of Toronto. "Our research suggests that one of the primary adaptations of the Neolithic way of life as it spread to Caucasia was viniculture."

The Neolithic period began around 15,200 B.C. in parts of the Middle East and ended between 4500 and 2000 B.C. in other parts of the world. It was during this period that humans began farming, domesticating animals, crafting polished stone tools and developing crafts that included pottery and weaving.

And now we can add another accomplishment — winemaking.

"Pottery, which was ideal for processing, serving and storing fermented beverages, was invented in this period together with many advances in art, technology and cuisine," said Batiuk, who described a civilization in which wine influenced nearly everything, from the practice of medicine to special celebrations to daily meals.

"The domestication of the grape apparently led eventually … to the emergence of a wine culture in the region," he said. "As a medicine, social lubricant, mind-altering substance and highly valued commodity, wine became the focus of religious cults, pharmacopeias, cuisines, economics and society throughout the ancient Near East….

"The infinite range of flavors and aromas of today's 8,000-10,000 grape varieties are the end result of the domesticated Eurasian grapevine being transplanted and crossed with wild grapevines elsewhere over and over again. The Eurasian grapevine that now accounts for 99.9 percent of wine made in the world today has its roots in Caucasia." GRAPE’s findings were reported this week in a research study, Early Neolithic wine of Georgia in the South Caucasus, in Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).