Arguably the highlight today was visiting the world’s oldest known winery – located about an hour and 10 minutes drive from Yerevan (based on the way our driver took to the roads aggressively – probably much slower if driven normally!). This site was ‘discovered’ in 2007 and was excavated by Armenian, Irish and American archaeologists until about 2011. What they discovered was astounding. A sizable working winery that dates back 6,100 years! This is at least 1,000 years older then the 2nd oldest winery on the planet – located in the West Bank.
Items include a press (people used their feet), the juice would then drain off into vats which were filled to then ferment. A number of these vats can still be seen including separate vats for wine storage.
Archaeologists also found pressed grapes, prunes, walnuts, and old vines along with drinking cups. I’m sure just as equal a thrill was the discovery of an almost perfectly preserved leather shoe (currently the oldest piece of leather footwear known on the planet). This was dated back to about 5,500 years old. When found, the shoe was filled with straw. This and the other items found in the cave were preserved so well due to the dry environment and dark cave environment – and the fact everything was covered with sheep dung (which acted as a preservative). The shoe is now on display in the History Museum of Armenia in Yerevan.
Walking in this cave is like walking back in time – because it was such a recent archaeological discovery it all looks like a fresh excavation. And the remains are still under the roped grid system from the dig. The preservation of some of the vats is impressive – some are extremely thin – some are only partially excavated and you stand on soil that covers the remainder.
And once we left the cave we stopped by for some modern day wine making at the Areni Wine Factory where their focus is on a number of products including wine made from the local Areni grape, fruit wine and various brandies. It was quite interesting to try both apricot and pomegranate wine – both wines as expected really showed the distinctive flavors of each of these respective fruits.