Ancient factory exposes secrets of winemaking in the Holy Land

Israel Antiquities Authority workers stand at the remains of a 1500-year-old Byzantine winery in Yavne, Israel October 11, 2021. REUTERS/Nir Elias
A 1,500-year-old wine factory the size of a modern-day football field has been unearthed in Israel, showing how vintners met demand for high quality white wine popular throughout the ancient world.

Excavated in the city of Yavne, some 30km (18 miles) south of Tel Aviv, the cluster of five winepresses was once able to produce about 2 million litres (530,000 gallons) a year, the Israel Antiquities Authority said.

The stone structures were so well preserved that it is still easy to visualise the winemaking process - from the platform where piles of grapes split open under their own weight, releasing "free-run" juice for the choicest wines, to the grape-stomping floor and collection basins.

Dozens of wine jugs, tall and thin, which were made in large kilns on site and able to hold up to 25 litres (6.6 gallons), were also found.

The dig team said these were known as "Gaza jars" after the nearby port from which they were shipped abroad. Such jars have been found across Europe, evidence that the wine was in high demand.

Wine was a common beverage in ancient times, served to children as well as adults, said Jon Seligman, one of the excavation directors. It was often used as a substitute for water, which was not always safe to drink, or as an additive to improve its taste and nutritional value.

"Having five huge winepresses right next to each other shows that there is industrial design over here," Seligman said, describing the complex, which authorities plan to open to the public. "The apex of the wine production which was associated with the Gazan wines."

And did the final product taste like wines of today?

It's impossible to know, Seligman said, while noting that ancient texts have described the beverage as a light white wine that was "agreeable to the taste".