Oct 21, 2021

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Yavneh was the world’s major producers of wine roughly 1,500 years ago. We now know this because a massive and intricately designed industrial wine production complex from the Byzantine period has been unearthed in the city over the past two years. The major excavation was conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority in a joint effort with the Israel Land Authority to expand the city. The complex features five impressive wine presses, kilns for firing the clay amphorae where they stored the wine, warehouses for aging, tens of thousands of both fragments, and intact earthen amphorae (jars), efficient access between the plant’s wings, and much more.

Drinking wine was commonplace in ancient times, for both kids and adults. Because the water wasn’t always sterile, wine was also used as a type of sweetener to enhance the taste, or even as a substitute for drinking water. All of the unearthed winepresses sprawl out over an area of approximately 225 square meters. Adjacent to the treading floor, where the grapes were stomped on barefoot to extract the juice, storage space was constructed to ferment the wine. In that same area, two massive octagonal-shaped vats were crafted to collect the alchoholic beverage.

Dr. Elie Haddad, Dr. Jon Seligman, and Liat Nadav-Ziv, who directed the excavation on behalf of the IAA said: “we were surprised to discover a sophisticated factory here, which was used to produce wine in commercial quantities. Furthermore, decorative niches in the shape of a conch, which adorned the winepresses, indicate the great wealth of the factory owners. A calculation of the production capacity of these winepresses shows that approximately two million liters of wine were marketed every year, while we should remember that the whole process was conducted manually.”

In between the winepresses, four huge warehouses were found. They formed the winery of the plant itself. The jars where the wine was aged, some of which were found completely intact, along with hundreds of thousands of vessel fragments, were crafted in the factory in large kilns.

“Gaza and Ashkelon Wine” was known as a high-quality wine brand in the ancient world”, the archaeologists explained. Everyone knew that this was a product from the Holy Land product, and everyone wanted more and more of this wine. The wine received its name as it was marketed through the ports of Gaza and Ashkelon. So far, other sites where wine was produced are known from the southern coastal plain, but now, we seem to have found the main production center of this prestigious wine. From here, commercial quantities were transported to the ports, and then throughout the Mediterranean basin”.

It should be noted that the excavation in Yavneh revealed rare and even more ancient winepresses from the Persian period, roughly 2,300 years ago. “In the Mishna it is said that after the destruction of Yerushalayim, the Jewish leadership migrated to Yavneh, and that the Chachamim (sages) of Yavneh lived in a vineyard and studied Torah. The excavation shows a continuum of the existence of the wine industry at the site over many centuries of years” the archaeologists added.