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  • Marco Giovanetti

The Renaissance of Ancient World Wine: A Cultural Revival in Lebanon, Israel, Georgia, and Armenia

Bacchus Temple, Baalbek (Heliopolis) Lebanon
Bacchus Temple, Baalbek (Heliopolis) Lebanon. Photo by Fred Nassar

In the ancient lands of Lebanon, Israel, Georgia, and Armenia, a remarkable renaissance of old-world wine is underway. These nations, deeply rooted in history and culture, have embarked on a journey to revive the vinicultural traditions of their ancestors.

Scholars state that humanity discovered Vitis vinifera in the region of modern Lebanon around 60,000 to 100,000 years during the Paleolithic era. In addition, the first winemaking techniques were developed during the Neolithic period around 8500 to 4000BCE. To expand, wine was being made in the lands of Georgia and Armenia 6000 years ago.

Map of old world, new world and ancient world of wine
Image from In Good Taste

Through the exploration of indigenous grape varieties, ancient winemaking techniques, and a relentless commitment to quality, these countries have revived their vinicultural heritage. This essay delves into a brief survey of the resurgence of ancient world wine in Lebanon, Israel, Georgia, and Armenia, celebrating the profound cultural revival taking place in these regions.

Lebanon: Unfolding a Vinicultural Legacy

Lebanon, nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and the majestic mountains, boasts a vinicultural legacy dating back thousands of years. The country's winemaking history can be traced to ancient Phoenicia, where vineyards flourished. The most recent archaeological studies reveal that the Phoenician civilization developed the earliest winemaking technology and domestication of vines in the northeast of Lebanon in the Southern Caucasus region.

Chateau Musar catapulted Lebanese winemaking in the 1970s with their Bordeaux style blends. However, since the 2000’s Lebanese winemakers have embraced their cultural roots, rediscovering indigenous grape varieties and ancient winemaking techniques. They have brought back grape varieties such as Obeideh and Merwah through dedication and innovation, crafting exquisite wines that showcase Lebanon's unique terroir and rich heritage.

Vineyard with mountain scenery in the Bekaa valley in Lebanon
Bekaa valley in Lebanon

These new producers include Château Ksara and Château Marsyas. Furthermore, Chateau Kefraya is at the forefront of rediscovering this ancient heritage by developing a dozen indigenous grape varietal program that features Assali el Arous, Inab el Mir, and Assouad Karech varieties as well as aging the wines in amphorae as a tribute to the Phoenician heritage.

Château de Ksara, Lebanon
Photo © Château de Ksara

Israel: A Modern Resurgence of Ancient Roots

Old wine amphoras, relics of an ancient wine cellar discovered near the present town of Nahariya in northern Israel.
The relics of an ancient wine cellar discovered near the present town of Nahariya in northern Israel. Photo AP

Israel, with larger-than-life ancient biblical wine narratives, is also witnessing a revival of ancient world wine. Winemaking in Israel has a deep history spanning thousands of years, and today, the country is experiencing a modern renaissance.

Some scholars contend that the birthplace of winemaking can be found between the Black and Galilee seas. In addition, the Israel Antiquities Authority discovered a vast winemaking facility replete with kilns and warehouses, going back to 1,500 years in the town of Yavne capable of producing up to two million litres of wine per year. Israeli winemakers combine ancient grape varieties, such as Carignan and Marawi, with modern winemaking techniques.

In Israel, Dr. Yair Margalit, the founder of Margalit Winery in 1989, is considered the pioneer of Israel’s boutique wine movement. These producers focus on transparent terror wine expression. To continue, Cremisan winery in the West Bank is pioneering rare Israeli varieties such as Bittuni, Jandali, Baladi and Dabouki.

Cremisan Monastery, Israel
Cremisan Monastery

Georgia: The Cradle of Winemaking

Georgia, famous as the hub of winemaking, is famous for being the poster child of ancient vinicultural traditions. With an uninterrupted winemaking history spanning over 8,000 years, Georgian winemakers have preserved and revived ancient winemaking methods.

The traditional Georgian technique of Qvevri winemaking, where grapes are fermented in large clay vessels buried underground, has gained global recognition. This tradition of vinifying in citron ceramic amphora was honoured by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In addition, natural wine guru Alice Feiring reports that the Georgia Natural Museum holds a grape seed carbon dated to 8000 years ago.

Qvevri manufacture  and wine-making demonstration in Georgia
Qvevri creation, Photo © Ministry of Culture and Monument protection of Georgia

Indigenous grape varieties such as Saperavi and Rkatsiteli find expression through this ancient method, producing wines with vibrant amber hues, distinct flavours, and a depth that echoes centuries of winemaking wisdom. Georgian winemaking techniques consist of whole clusters of grapes crushed by foot in wooden troughs, where the must falls directly into the Qvevri. Once the juice has completely run off, the stems and skins are usually added to the juice in the Qvevri and left there for days, weeks, or even months. After the desired amount of skin maceration, the stems and skins are taken out of the vessel and the new wine is put into another Qvevri and sealed for the final period of desired aging.

To continue, Georgia boasts 525 indigenous grape varieties and many artisanal wines are field blends with incredible aging potential. This fantastic Georgian grape ecosystem highlights the uniqueness of Georgian wine.

Shumi Winery, in Tsinandali, Kakheti, Georgia
Shumi Winery, in Tsinandali, Kakheti, Georgia

Armenia: Unearthing Forgotten Treasures

Armenia, a land rich in cultural heritage, is reclaiming its stake in the world of ancient world wine. Unearthing forgotten grape varieties and traditional winemaking techniques, Armenian winemakers are breathing new life into their vinicultural legacy. The use of Karas, clay pots similar to Georgia's Qvevri, allows for natural fermentation and the preservation of the authentic character of Armenian wines. Grape varieties like Areni Noir and Voskehat take center stage, producing wines that reflect the unique terroir and storytelling traditions of Armenia.

Areni cave, Armenia
Areni cave, Armenia

The 2007 discovery of a 6,000-year-old ancient wine cave in Armenia’s Vayots Dzor renewed the interest of Armenians to rediscover their ancient wine heritage. For instance, since the 2010s, Armenia's wine culture flourished again like a sphinx to take new forms.

Wine reclaimed its place on the Armenian gastronomical table replacing vodka and brandy which once dominated. This renaissance is also evident in the many wine bars and wine shops populating Saryan Street in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. One can taste and buy more than 250 Armenian wine bottles. This revival serves as a testament to the resilience and determination of the Armenian people to reclaim their winemaking heritage.

Timeless wine traditions...

Nana Estate, Mitzpe Ramon, Israel
Nana Estate, Israel. Photo by Yael Hofnung

The renaissance of ancient world wine in Lebanon, Israel, Georgia, and Armenia represents a profound cultural revival. In these lands, winemakers are rediscovering their vinicultural legacies, unearthing forgotten grape varieties, and reviving ancient winemaking techniques. The wines that emerge from this resurgence embody the essence of these ancient civilizations, evoking a sense of timelessness and cultural richness. Through their commitment to preserving and celebrating their vinicultural heritage, Lebanon, Israel, Georgia, and Armenia have not only transformed their local wine industries but have also captivated the global wine community. We can toast to the enduring spirit of the ancient world and the beauty of cultural revival.


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