A handful of charred grape seeds dating back to the Byzantine era could help scientists recreate the “Wine of the Negev,” noted in history as one of the finest wines in the Byzantine Empire.
The grapes used to produce “the Wine of the Negev” are more than 1,500 years old and were found at the Halutza excavation site in the Negev during a joint dig by the University of Haifa and the Israel Antiquities Authority.
“The vines growing in the Negev today are European varieties, whereas the Negev vine was lost to the world. Our next job is to recreate the ancient wine, and perhaps in that way we will be able to reproduce its taste and understand what made the Negev wine so fine,” said Professor Guy Bar-Oz of the University of Haifa, director of the excavation.
The “wine of the Negev”, or “Gaza Wine”, was considered to be of very high quality and was very expensive, but did not survive the modern age.
Earlier excavations in the Negev uncovered the terraces where the vines were cultivated, the wineries where wine was produced, and the jugs in which the wine was stored and exported but the grape seeds were not found, until now.
The charred “Negev” seeds, are the first to be discovered and will provide direct evidence of the wine cultivated in the western Negev in ancient times.
Researchers today do not know whether Negev vines were an imported species or if they were native varieties that have been lost completely. DNA sequencing will now be used to trace the seeds’ origins.
“European varieties require copious amounts of water”, added Bar-Oz. “Today it is less of a problem thanks to technology, but it is unlikely that that was the case 1,500 years ago. It is more interesting to think of local grape varieties that were better suited to the Negev. Maybe the secret to the Negev wine’s international prestige lay in the method by which the vines were cultivated in the Negev’s arid conditions.”
It is hoped that the seeds will allow winemakers to recreate the ancient wine, which was famous throughout the Byzantine Empire in Egypt, Greece, Italy and Spain.