Film Review: Our Blood is Wine

Beautiful doc journey into rustic, remote areas of the Republic of Georgia where humble families continue ancient, unique winemaking techniques. A pleasure for wine, nature and travel lovers alike.
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Happiness may lie in simplicity (and just enough wine), or so Music Box Films’ Our Blood Is Wine suggests. The doc features Chicago sommelier Jeremy Quinn, who, after proclaiming a desire to know more about where “wine began in the first place,” visits that place—places, really—throughout the Republic of Georgia as he experiences close encounters with small winemakers practicing techniques going back thousands of years.

These are all dedicated, modest family people proud of a primitive method of producing wine that involves, most importantly, the use of “qvevris,” small to very large, simple homemade clay vessels that are the heart of the technique. In broad strokes, the qvevris store the harvested grapes and are then buried in the ground to ferment for six months (akin to the making of Korea’s famous kimchi). Quinn and filmmaker/camerawoman Emily Railsback travel to many far-flung Georgia regions where welcoming winemakers share their methods—from the hunt for and research of grapes (even found on vines many hundreds of years old) to the processing (crushing and packing in the qvevris, digging storage holes, etc.). Then comes the joyous spring ritual after six winter months when the vessels are unearthed and the wine is experienced.

Interestingly, not a lot of oohs and aahs come from sommelier Quinn as he occasionally sniffs and tastes, but clearly quality is not uppermost. (As one winemaker puts it unapologetically, “We make the traditional, not the better wines.”)

The focus here is on the craft’s rich history and the Georgia families who continue the tradition, which is also evident in the role gender plays. There is one young female winemaker, but males dominate, often sweaty, barechested and wearing baggy shorts as they toil or merrily partaking in meals, singing rituals, and celebratory gatherings. (Women have a moment as servers.) The men, often smiling and maybe glowing from a wine buzz, come across as devoted workers, unassailable guardians of a craft that dates back to 5,000 or 6,000 B.C.

The filmmakers interact with their subjects at meals, go to museums where ancient qvevris are on display, learn about wine as it relates to the area’s history, including the many foreign invasions over the centuries and, more recently, the Soviet takeover that also meant the taking over of much of their wine properties and production. Interspersed are clips from Georgian filmmaker Otar Iosseliani’s 1966 wine-themed Falling Leaves, about the Soviet incursion.

Down to earth both figuratively and literally, Our Blood Is Wine seems far from the elegance, opulence or slickness of the craft as usually seen in areas like Tuscany, France or California. The doc is like a footnote to the mammoth globetrotting doc Mondovino, which covered corporate to tiny wineries worldwide. But in its simplicity and focus, this Georgian venture—a kind of ethnographic and cultural revelation—might have some deeper lessons to teach along with its full-bodied entertainment and spectacular locations. And maybe some Amazon searches for “qvevris.”

Click here for cast and crew information.