On a small rise less than 20 miles south of Tbilisi, Georgia, a clutch of round, mud-brick houses rises from a green, fertile river valley. The mound is called Gadachrili Gora, and the Stone Age farmers who lived here 8,000 years ago were grape lovers: Their rough pottery is decorated with bunches of the fruit, and analysis of pollen from the site suggests the wooded hillsides nearby were once decked with grapevines.
The people living at Gadachrili Gora and a nearby village were the world’s earliest known vintners—producing wine on a large scale as early as 6,000 B.C., a time when prehistoric humans were still reliant on stone and bone tools.
Combined with the grape decorations on the outside of the jars, ample grape pollen in the site’s fine soil, and radiocarbon dates from 5,800 B.C. to 6,000 B.C., the chemical analysis indicates the people at Gadachrili Gora were the world’s earliest winemakers.
Georgia, nestled in the Caucasus mountains not far from where the Neolithic Revolution began, is still wine-crazy 8,000 year later. It has more than 500 local grape varieties, a sign that people have been breeding and growing grapes here for a long time.
Georgians are rightly proud of their rich and historic winemaking culture, and as traditional methods enjoy a renaissance, the qvevri - an earthenware vessel used to store and age wine for thousands of years - is becoming the unofficial symbol of the country, found on everything from tea towels to t-shirts.
Georgia is now making a name for itself in the natural wine market. Even though it’s a small amount of its total production, the rise in interest for traditional methods and using clay for storage and fermentation has put the country back at the forefront of wine production.