Georgian Wine,History,Wine

Pips and pots ~ How old is wine, anyway?

When I’ve wondered about how old wine could possibly be, I envision a cave woman putting grapes that were brought to her in some kind of container. Her mate also brought way too many grapes, so the weight of the grapes, plus not being able to eat them all right away, began the fermenting process.

But, how does anyone prove any of this, not having been there?

Well, it’s pretty simple in a complex way. Wine can be traced back to the VI Century B.C in Georgia.

Pips (seeds) have been found. Seeds alone aren’t the defining moment, as much as also finding the seeds in conjunction with finding clay pots. Clay pots aren’t enough proof, either. It’s the next evidence that nails it. Inside the pots were traces of mineral salts, the same salts that are found in tartaric acid… those white crystals that you’ll sometimes find in wine.

The Aha moment… pips and pots and tartaric acid.

When I met with delegates from Georgia this past spring, I was handed the 2012 edition of the Georgian Wine Guide, written by Malkhaz Kharbedia. Both Oto Sharashenidze (Pheasant’s Tears) and Iago Bitarishvili (Iago’s Wine) wanted me to learn as much as I could, and I eagerly accepted the book. Since then, I’ve been reading bits and pieces, knowing that I need to just get more engaged. This is the beginning of that engagement, and I’m going to share ~ given the nature of the topic, most especially as it relates to the history of wine, from the cradle of all humanity.

According to this book, archeobotanical evidence is pointing to modern Georgia and the mountainous Near East (including Turkey and northwest Iran) as the area where wine culture “took root.”

Patrick E. McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania Museum wrote in the forward of this book: “… 99.9 percent of the world’s wines today derives from these bold innovations in the Neolithic Near East.”

In other words… with the Neolithic period, which was the last part of the Stone Age when farming began, the earth delivering grapes for cultivating, and this gift from Mother Nature began the civilizing of humanity, all beginning with pips and …. [This also reminds me how slowly that civilizing process is taking, probably not exactly what Mother Nature had in mind.]

Georgia is now experiencing a Renaissance in winemaking, and currently wants to be known for more than just where it all began.

This modern thinking is admirable. Still, for me as a person who can’t get enough information about wine, I need to start with the origins of wine, so that when I finally search out, find, and enjoy Georgian wines, I’ll have complete appreciation and understanding of what I’m enjoying…. tasting history that’s 6,000 years old.

I’ve been here once before, but in another country, when I wrote, To Understand Portuguese Wines, One Must First Understand the People. To understand the wines of Georgia, one must first understand their history, and off we go…

13 Responses to “Pips and pots ~ How old is wine, anyway?”

  1. Deborah Gray says:

    Fascinating history and I hope they realize what an important marketing story this is for Georgia as they introduce their modern wines to the world. We should move forward and innovate, but never forget how we got there.

  2. Jo Diaz says:

    Yes, indeed, Deborah. Where we’ve come from decides our future in so many ways.

  3. It’s my understanding that western grapegrowers and enologists have been working for years in Georgia and other former USSR republics in that area to help launch their wine businesses. If you can put together a tasting of Georgian wines, count me in!

  4. I was in Georgia visiting vineyards as part of research for my upcoming book out in November (Divine Vintage: Following the Wine Trail from Genesis to the Modern Age) and met with several of the same people you have.

    Sharing lunch with Patrick (McGovern) and Jose Vouillamoz we talked about how important Georgia is to early wine production, as well as SE Turkey, including their work which indicates via DNA that at least 4 varieties (PN, Nebbiolo, Chasselas and Syrah) “likely” have their roots in Georgia’s ancient cultivars.

    Seeing qvevri wine being made while there, and talking with American owner Jon Wardeman of Pheasant’s Tears as well as some European-trained winemakers (nod to Heimoff!),there is a great fascination with making both the traditional style of wines, with modern hygiene of course, and modern wines with ancient varieties, as at Ch. Mukhrani.

    Clark Smith was with us on the trip, at my request, and he was blown away with (as I liked to call it) the Georgian “pre-post-modern” approach to winemaking in qvevri. See his new book on post modern winemaking when it is released in the next several months!

    There are a few wines from Georgia of quality in the market. Steve– you can get them at K&L or Corti Bros. We used some of them for our tasting of “ancient wines” in preparation for our last chapter: “Seriously, What wines would Jesus drink?”
    It was an eye opener to those never before exposed to such wines

    I hope that more Georgian wines will be imported soon…They really are good. My colleague Lisa Granik MW (also on our trip last fall) wrote a very good piece for World of Fine Wine magazine #36 Q2 2012 just out.

  5. Jo Diaz says:

    Sorry, Guys. I played hookie yesterday, and had no idea this blog post would have so many of you commenting. (Most of my posts only have a few people reacting.)

    The swim was great; your comments are greater.


  6. Jo Diaz says:

    That’s a great idea, Steve.

  7. Jo Diaz says:

    Joel, excellent comments, and I love the title of your upcoming book. It is about Genesis until now. What an eye opener for me.

    Your last chapter, “Seriously, What wines would Jesus drink?” – Now, that’s one title I wish I had thought of, but I’m far from understanding a minor fraction of what you’ve learned, so congratulations on all of your doings.

    Clark Smith has a book coming out? Well, I’ll be seeing him in about a week. We’ve got lots to talk about. (It also explains to me why he’s been quietly “absent” for a while from my emails. What a character.)

    I’ll also have to read Lisa’s story.

    I appreciate your comments.

  8. You are welcome. And Clark always has much to talk about! Joel

  9. […] Wine Blog » Blog Archive » Pips and pots ~ How old is wine, anyway? […]

  10. WWWW #42 says:

    […] up, for all the history buffs out there, you have two articles to enjoy this week.  This blog entry attempts to understand how long humans have been deliberately making wine.  If you are a Thomas […]

  11. Matt says:

    I was recently in Georgia and wrote this about a one day wine tour. I am not a wine connoisseur or even know much about wine, but as they say the adventure is in the journey!
    If you want a version for you blog I can supply

  12. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks, Matt. I’m off to read your story. It


    in the journey…

  13. Jo Diaz says:

    Excellent story, Matt. You don’t have to be a wine writer to write about wine. You just have to love the adventure. You’ve proven this.

Leave a Reply