Bible Archaeology

Ancient Winery Discovered in Central Israel Region During Storm

Large 1,500-year-old winepress unearthed in area once known for wine production.

In the Jerusalem Post:

Israel antique winepress

A large, well-preserved 1,500-year-old winery has been exposed during a violent storm in the Sharon Plain region, located between the Mediterranean Sea and Samarian Hills, the Antiquities Authority announced Monday.

According to IAA archeologist Alla Nagorski, the discovery was made off the Eyal Interchange several weeks ago when flooding and hail disrupted an excavation at the site, where natural gas lines are scheduled to be embedded.

The northern part of the Sharon Plain is considered the most historical wine region in Israel, and is where the first roots of Israeli wine were planted in modern times.

When water was pumped from the site, Nagorski said the well-preserved winery was found. She described it as impressive and rare.

“It is evident that great thought was invested in the engineering and construction,” she said. “The wine press is huge – 3 meters in diameter and 2 meters deep, and could accommodate 20 cubic meters of wine.”

More here.



The Wine in a Middle Bronze Age Palace in Israel


Wine is referenced over 230 times in the Bible. So some readers might be interested in this post from the Smithsonian blog on the chemical analysis of the contents of large jars found at Tel Kabri, tentatively identified as a wine cellar of a Middle Bronze Age palace. The blog post summarizes more extensive and technical discussion found here.



Venezuela: Churches Running Out of Wine

The BBC reports:

The Catholic Church in Venezuela has said it is running out of wine to celebrate Mass because of nationwide shortages of basic supplies.

It said the scarcity of some products had forced the country’s “only wine maker” to stop selling to the Church.

Critics blame the shortages on tight state control of the economy and inadequate domestic production.

But the government insists that an opposition-led conspiracy and price speculations are the problem.

“[Our supplier] Bodegas Pomar have told us that they can no longer make wine because they’re facing difficulties,” Church spokesman Monsignor Lucker told BBC News.

Some of the items the supplier had to import to make the wine were now scarce, said the spokesman.

Monsignor Lucker added that they had enough supplies for just two more months, and that he did not know if the Church could afford wines from abroad.

But the problem was not limited to wine, he said.

“The makers of consecrated bread have told us that they’ll have to raise prices because they can’t find enough flour.

“Wheat is not grown here – it all comes from abroad,” he said.

“A packet of consecrated bread used to cost 50 bolivar ($8, £5), but it’s now 100″…


Bible Archaeology

Ancient wine

The importance that wine assumed in Judeo-Christian ritual stems from the prominent position of wine in Ancient Israel.

In the Jerusalem Post:

Winemaking began in the triangle of the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea and Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee). It was somewhere in eastern Turkey, Georgia and Armenia that wine was first made. The vine then traveled south toward Egypt – which was the first great wine culture – where wine’s importance was first documented. On the way, it passed through Canaan and ancient Israel, which was therefore one of the earliest of all wine-producing countries. The Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans finished the job, spreading the wine message to the West and bringing the vine to North Africa and Europe.

Wine features very prominently throughout the Bible. Noah was the first recorded vine grower. He planted his vineyard where the ark came to rest on Mount Ararat. Nomads did not plant vineyards. It was a sign of civilization when people became farmers instead of hunters.

When the spies returned to Moses after scouting out the Promised Land, they carried a large bunch of grapes on a pole between two people, which they used to illustrate that it was a land flowing with milk and honey. This enduring image is the logo of the Israel Tourist Board and Carmel Winery.

The wine industry blossomed. Wine was the mainstay of the economy and the country’s major export. King David had two wine officials. One managed his vineyards and the other his cellars. Maybe these were Israel’s first viticulturist and sommelier!

People drank copious amounts of wine because it was safer than the water. Wine was also used as a disinfectant for wounds, as a dyeing agent, as an aid for digestion and for religious ritual.

The reminder of this golden period of Israeli wine may be found in the many winepresses that exist in Israel. When you next come across an ancient winepress, read Isaiah’s “Song to a Vineyard,” use a little imagination and it will bring the biblical harvest scene to life.

The winepress, (gat in Hebrew), is the area where the grapes were pressed. This was normally a limestone basin cut into the rock. Usually they were square but sometimes round. There was often a wooden structure surrounding and covering the press to offer shade.

The people knew something about winemaking in those days. The winepress was usually close to the vineyard because there was less wastage and a greater opportunity to maintain control of the winemaking process. The whole family would be involved with the harvest. Grapes would be carried in baskets and laid on the floor of the winepress, and the men usually did the pressing. This was done by treading on the grapes with bare feet. There was enough pressure to extract the juice but not enough to crush the grape pips and release unpleasant bitterness. To avoid slipping, the treaders would hold on to ropes attached to the roof.

The juice, or must (tirosh), would then flow down a gulley or channel from the main pressing area into a deeper hole, known as the yekev (literally “winery”). Twigs or thorns would be placed strategically to act as a rudimentary filter.

In the yekev, the wine would begin to ferment naturally. The natural yeasts on the skins of the grapes would find all the sugar in the grapes irresistible. The deepness of the hole and the stone surrounds would keep temperatures stable. Fermentation of the tirosh would take three to five days, and the result would be wine.

As soon as the production of carbon dioxide (a by-product of fermentation) finished and before the wine could begin to oxidize, the wine would be channeled into an even deeper pit, where Canaanite jars were filled. This was a pottery container with two large handles and a pointed bottom.

They became better known by their Greek name, amphorae. They were closed or sealed with pine resin. This imparted a unique flavor that may still be sampled in the retsina wines produced in Greece. The amphorae were stamped with seals giving the information of the vintage, vineyard, type of wine and color…

Read on here.