"We believe this is the oldest example of the domestication of a wild-growing Eurasian grapevine exclusively for the production of wine", said Stephen Batiuk, a senior research associate in the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations and the Archaeology Centre at U of T, and co-author of the study published in PNAS.
Pottery from a site in Georgia has tested positive for traces of wine.
It's not clear whether the ancient Georgian vintners were using a domesticated form, but it's possible because they apparently made lots of wine, he said.
"The wine was probably made similarly to the traditional qvevri method in Georgia today, where the grapes are crushed and the fruit, stems, and seeds are all fermented together", Batiuk said.
Scientists on the team came from the United States, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Israel and Georgia. They have been working for the past four years to re-analyze archeological sites that were found decades ago.
Georgia, which has a long heritage of winemaking, is positioned at a crossroads between Western Asia and Eastern Europe, and the grape identified in jar fragments excavated from two Neolithic-era villages is Vitis vinifera - aka the "Eurasian grapevine", from which almost all kinds of modern wine originate.
Some of the jars bore images of grape clusters and a man dancing.
It's awesome to think that 8,000 years ago the world's earliest winemakers were producing something very similar to the wine we consume today - and what's even more startling is it hints we probably had lots more in common with these ancient ancestors too.
He explained, "Wine is central to civilization as we know it in the West".
"As a medicine, social lubricant, mind-altering substance, and highly valued commodity, wine became the focus of religious cults, pharmacopeias, cuisines, economics, and society throughout the ancient Near East", he said. These decorations, the researchers hypothesize, represent grapes.
The excavations at the Gadachrili Gora site in Georgia. The discovery dates the origin of the practice to the Neolithic period around 6000 BC, pushing it back 600-1,000 years from the previously accepted date.