In the city of Yavne, south of Tel Aviv, archaeologists have discovered a huge complex of 1,500-year-old wine presses capable of producing about two million liters of wine a year.
The plant includes five wine presses, warehouses for aging and bottling of wine, and kilns for burning clay amphorae in which the wine was stored, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Monday.
This site was dated to the Byzantine era, around the 4th to 5th century AD, and is the largest known of its kind from that period.
Archaeologists have unearthed intact earthenware jars, as well as tens of thousands of fragments of the complex, which also had well-planned routes of communication between various sites.
The size of the complex and its ability to produce such a large amount of wine using manual production methods were unexpected, according to excavation leaders.
“We were surprised to find a complex distillery here that was used to produce wine in commercial quantities,” Dr. Eli Haddad, Liat Nadav-Ziv and Dr. Jon Seligman said in a joint statement. “Moreover, the decorative conch-shaped niches that adorned the wine presses testify to the great wealth of the owners of the factory.”
“The calculation of the production capacity of these wine presses shows that about two million liters of wine were brought to the market annually, and it should be remembered that the whole process was carried out by hand,” they said.
Since water at that time was often not sterile and not very tasty, drinking wine in ancient times was very common among both adults and children. Wine was added to water to improve its taste, or simply replaced with drinking water.
Each wine press in Yavne covered an area of about 225 square meters, with a floor on which grapes were crushed with bare feet, surrounded by separate compartments and vats for fermentation and storage of wine.
Between the wine presses were four large warehouses for aging the wine in elongated amphoras known as “Gaza jugs”, which were made locally in large ovens.
The IAA stated that “the wine of Gaza and Ashkelon” was considered a quality wine brand in the ancient world, with a reputation that went beyond the immediate vicinity of wine presses. According to archaeologists, the wine was sold through the ports of Ashkelon and Gaza – hence its name – and then transported throughout the Mediterranean basin.
Excavations at Yavne have uncovered even more ancient wineries dating back to the Persian period, some 2,300 years ago, IAA reports.
“The Mishnah says that after the destruction of Jerusalem (in 70 AD), the Jewish leadership moved to Yavneh, and the sages of Yavneh lived in the vineyard and studied the Torah. Excavations show the continuity of the existence of the wine industry at this place for many centuries.” archaeologists said.
Guided tours of the excavation site will be organized shortly until it is covered to protect it from the winter rains by registering on the IAA Facebook page in advance. The site will be preserved and subsequently opened as an archaeological park.