A huge and old wine factory has been discovered in Israel that can produce about half a million gallons of wine a year, an indication of a near-industrial operation that existed in the region 1,500 years ago.
The discovery, unveiled on Monday, included five wine presses capable of producing around 2 million liters of wine. Located in Yavne, a town of around 50,000, it is the largest complex of wine presses known from the Byzantine era, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Old coins, clay pots and ruins of buildings are often found. Two years ago, however, archaeologists excavating open land in the city about 15 miles south of Tel Aviv discovered the first signs of the largest complex of wine presses from that period, as the Israeli Antiquities Authority said they were soon to discover.
“This was a semi-accidental discovery,” said Jon Seligman, who led the excavation. “We weren’t looking for wine presses, but that was during the excavations in the area.”
The grapes were crushed barefoot on a tread, the juices then collected and fermented in octagonal vats. The white wine was then aged in clay jugs made in ovens on the premises. Four large warehouses were also found between the wine presses.
The winery is said to have been in operation for around 200 years and, according to the Antiquities Authority, exports its wines from ports in Ashkelon and Gaza to the whole of the Mediterranean.
Back then, wine was consumed by both children and adults as a substitute for water, which, according to the authorities, was often not sterile or palatable.
Given the size and advanced design of the complex, Seligman and colleagues believe it was operated by either a local landowner or the town of Yavne.
The region has long been known for its thriving wine industry, and the discovery of this complex now adds to that understanding, Seligman said.
In addition to the Byzantine wine factory, the archaeologists also discovered older wine presses from the Persian era around 2,300 years ago.
“It shows that winemaking was a traditional industry in the area, it has early origins and peaked in Byzantine times,” said Seligman.
The archaeologists involved consider further finds at the site to be likely.
“We’ll find more. We do not yet know what we will find. There will certainly be many more ovens for making glasses, ”said Seligman.
In Jewish history, Yavne is known as the city where prominent rabbis found refuge after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 1970.
The city eventually plans to convert the site into an archaeological park so the public can see the find.
“I’ve been an archaeologist for 35 years and every time you have such a large find it’s always exciting,” says Seligman. “It reminds you why you went into the job in the first place.”