Wine History of Azerbaijan

Millennia ago, long before the Caucasus region was divided up into nation states, people living here were cultivating grapes, and pretty soon they had the great idea of crushing them to make wine.

Wine historyof Azerbaijan


Biblical myths aside, an everincreasing body of archaeological and micro-botanical research does indeed suggest that wine was made in considerable quantity in ancient times at sites along the Arpachay River, a valley in Nakhchivan’s Sharur District. Several sites suggest an even older knowledge of wine by the Shulaveri-Shomutepe Culture, partly named after the Shomutepe archaeological site near Agstafa in West Azerbaijan. In Goygol District, jugs bearing wine residue have been unearthed dating back to the 2nd millennium BC, and in the North West region of Gabala, a wine cellar was discovered from the 1st-3rd centuries AD. Evidently, the South Caucasus region is one of the oldest centres of winemaking anywhere on the planet.


We fast forward to the early 19th century and the town of Goygol, then called Helenendorf. It was founded by settlers from Germany, excited to begin a new life in the Caucasus in light of the chaos caused by the Napoleonic Wars at home. The first group of 1,400 settlers left from southern Germany in 1816, the famine-plagued ‘year without summer’. Having overcome a series of difficulties, they planted new vineyards and, by the early 1860s, Christopher Vohrer incorporated Azerbaijan’s first fully-fledged commercial winery company. Goygol Winery still cites this as the starting point of their major wine enterprise.

Antiquity andthe Middle Ages

In the millennia that follow, there’s plenty more evidence of viniculture, seen in both archaeological sources and in the pages of historians, including Herodotus, Strabo, Pliny the Elder and several later Arabic writers. Viniculture is generally thought to have experienced a decline following the Arab conquest of Azerbaijan in the 7th century and the subsequent spread of Islam, but various forms of thick honey-like wine continued to be produced and consumed mainly for medicinal purposes, but also for pleasure among the region’s ruling classes in the Middle Ages.

The Sovietperiod

In the Soviet era, Azerbaijan’s production increased dramatically, though often favouring low-quality sweet wines. The republic was one of the USSR’s top wine producers with brands such as the ‘Agdam’ port style fortified wine becoming extremely popular throughout the Soviet Union. Even one of the famous wine regions was Karabakh, especially Aghdam and Fuzuli. Production reached a peak in 1984 when over 2 million tonnes of grapes were harvested in Azerbaijan from some 275,000 hectares of vineyards, thus making winemaking the republic’s most profitable industry. However, Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign, beginning in May 1985, led to the destruction of most of the vineyards so that after Azerbaijan regained its independence in 1991, it took another decade before it was able to start rebuilding its wine industry


After independence, a series of government initiatives, starting in 2002, led to wide-scale replanting with a greater emphasis on quality over quantity. Wineries essentially started all over again, helped by expert winemakers from Italy and Moldova, as well as Azerbaijan’s wine experts from the Soviet period. The introduction of popular, internationally recognised grape varieties has also helped in crafting wines with global export appeal, while the use of Caucasian endemics allows for experimentation with more regionally specific niche products. The transnational project Iter Vitis Caucasus Wine Route also connects Caucasian countries.


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