Archaeologists Uncover Ancient Wine Making Facility

by Matthew Memrick

An archeology dig in Israel has uncovered a vast ancient winemaking facility that may date back 1,500 years.

Scientists in Yavne say they unexpectedly found five wine presses, warehouses, kilns, and many fragments and jars at the location.

The city is about an hour south of Tel Aviv-Yafo. 

Researchers believe the operation could have produced over 520,000 gallons per year. The Times of Israel called it the ancient world’s largest winemaking operation.

The Antiquities Authority museum said Yavne was a big winemaker during the Byzantine era (395 CE to 1453). 

Wine A-plenty  

The winemaking site could have supplied wine drinkers throughout the Mediterranean, according to one researcher.

Jon Seligman, one of the excavation directors, said the famous wine was “Gaza” and “Ashkelon” wine. The ancient site likely made light white wines, going through the Ashkelon and Gaza ports. Mediterranean countries like Egypt and Turkey became destinations for the wine. 

The alcoholic drink, during that time, had multiple uses. But a big reason for its popularity: wine was more potable than water. Seligman said the wine was “a safe drink because the water was often contaminated.”

Wine Operation Detailed

The Israeli excavation discovery was two years in the making amid fast-moving development throughout the city.

Notably, the scientists said, “decorative niches in the shape of a conch, which adorned the winepresses.”

The niches could demonstrate the great wealth of the factory owners.

The fact that massive wine operation’s manually at this operation is remarkable to the scientists. Home Brew Advice, a website for alcohol makers, summarized the winemaking process. The website said there was a two-month minimum in winemaking before anybody could drink it.

Now, Yavne’s massive production in comparison is amazing.

The scientists said each winepress covered an area of 225 square meters. Bare feet would crush the grapes on a treading floor with separate chambers and vats for storing/fermenting the wine.

Four enormous warehouses were between the five presses. Long two-handled, narrow neck “Gaza jars” often sat in the warehouses as part of the process. The site also had large kilns to make these specialized jars. 

Also, the IAA found even more history at the site. Archeologists also uncovered older winepresses, dating back to the Persian period some 2,300 years ago.

The Times of Israel also reported that Jerusalem refugees from 70 BCE may have created the operation.

Want to Go?

Before Israel’s winter rains come, the IAA is giving tours at the site. However, tourists need to register beforehand. There are links through the group’s Facebook page.

Plans to preserve the site and turn it into an archaeological park are in the making.