The earliest evidence of sophisticated, organized wine production was recently discovered by an international team of archaeologists excavating a site in Armenia. In January of 2011, the group reported having unearthed a beautifully preserved wine press from the Copper Age in a cave near the mountain village of Areni. The wine press was connected to a sunken fermentation vat made of clay. Several storage jars, a drinking cup, a drinking bowl, and pottery shards with wine residue on them were recovered near the press. The “Areni-1″ cave and its wine production seem to have been tied in with rituals for the dead. The area just outside the cave is a cemetery, and so far, 20 graves dating back approximately 6,000 years have been excavated. Many of the graves had wine-stained cups in and around them.
The ancient wine press is a box-like platform that drains into a large receptacle. Its design shows the early wine-makers broke open and de-stemmed grapes by stomping the fruit with their bare feet. Juice from the slanted platform-press ran down into a clay fermentation vat that had a capacity of almost 15 gallons. Desiccated scraps of vine strewn around the wine press and vat were revealed by carbon dating to be about 6,000 years old–a full millennium more ancient than any similar facility previously found. Other grape remnants that were found, including seeds, stems, and skins, were of the same age and species as the dried-out vines. The specimens were identified as vitis vinifera, a domesticated subspecies of vitis vinifera sylvestris, which has grown wild for millions of years throughout Europe and parts of Asia. Vitis vinifera is still used in wine-making today — archaeologists believe domestication of the Eurasian grape occurred first in the mountain regions around modern-day Armenia, and then moved south to Mediterranean areas.