A Visit to…Possibly the Oldest Bodega in Spain, Las Pilillas Archeological Dig!

The archeologist explains to the bloggers.....

In April of 2010 I posted on the application by Utiel-Requena for UNESCO heritage status for the  archeological remains of an early excavated stone trough in the Hoces de Cabriel National park which had been dated to the Iberian age, roughly the same as the Iron age in the UK.

In April of this year I updated after a special Conference had been held which catapulted that application towards it´s acceptance which hopefully will be declared next year.

Last weekend in the company of the archeologist, fellow bloggers  and the communications department of DO Utiel-Requena I was fortunate enough to visit the site myself. This now consists of rather more than an old stone trough which had been hollowed out to allow the grapes to be trodden. In fact it is now much more evident and in context with its surroundings which have been more extensively excavated and explored allowing a fuller understanding of the remains.

The site of the excavation is in a hillside above a dry river bed, a tributary of the Cabriel and not far from an early road which connected the interior to the coast and was used by the ancient people as a major communications route. The Phoenicians who travelled extensively in Europe arrived in the seventh century before Christ bringing wine-making with them. This site has been dated to the fifth century before Christ from the carbon dating of pips found at the dig.

The stone trough.

As part of the exploration further stone troughs have been discovered in the area but at Las Pilillas there is also extensive evidence that the site was actually a dedicated bodega. The stone troughs sit above a series of terraces which are still being uncovered but clearly visible now are the stone walls of a large building. This is too large to have been a dwelling ( other excavations have determined the style and size of dwellings at the time) and interior excavation has brought to light fragments of amphorae, the traditional fermenting and storage vessels. This bodega would have had a roof as it is believed the stone troughs did, allowing those treading the grapes to enjoy some shelter from the sun.

The fragments of amphorae which have been found were fired in kilns located not far away from which several hundred pieces have been reconstructed and carbon dating has shown them to be contemporary.

Wine making in the area has continued this traditional pattern  from treading the grapes in troughs and fermentation and storage in terracotta right through the Roman period until the middle of the 19th century when the agricultural revolution took hold.

It is not known when the site was abandoned but the nearby town of Requena has underground caves some of which still have the large terracotta tinajas for fermentation together with the pipes through which the grape juice was fed from the pressing in the houses above. These caves were used initially as a defensive measure but were being used as bodegas by the 14th century .

In any case there is a demonstrably provable case that wine making has been undertaken in the region continuously since this bodega was created making it one of the earliest such sites on the Iberian Peninsular.

The bodega set into a terrace.

Sadly the original vineyards have not yet been located nor has it yet been possible to identify the grape variety but I suspect I am not the only one who hopes it may one day turn out to be Bobal.

The archeological site can be visited and sits beside a popular walking track. The caves of the old town  of Requena are also open with guided  tours available and are well worth the visit.

If you would like to see more I recommend Paco Alonso´s www.pigtv.es ¨The origen of Wine in Spain.¨

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  • Vincent Pétré  On June 29, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    Riki, I’m jealous.
    Seriously, it’s always good when people can enjoy their history what was going on before we we came on this world.

    BTW Bourgogne climat and my dear Champagne with our cellars, soil are also on contest to win the UNESCO protection status.

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