Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Our Blood is Wine: Reviving a Tradition in Georgia

The Soviets did the near impossible. They turned the richly diverse wines of Georgia into undrinkable swill. Under the occupation, all the distinctive regional strains of grapes went into the same vat, producing muddy grape juice. Gone were the varietals and varied local traditions. That is exactly what collectivization means. Happily, many Georgians are rekindling the ancient qvevri winemaking process. Filmmaker Emily Railsback and sommelier Jeremy Quinn introduce viewers to many of the new generation of traditional Georgian vintners in Our Blood is Wine (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York and Chicago.

Georgian wine has a well-deserved reputation for being special, but few outside the sovereign nation have tasted the real deal. Often it is more acidic but less alcoholic than other wines, but it truly spans the gamut of body and taste. When Quinn wanted to connect with the essence of what wine should be, he came to Georgia.

Although the local crops and qvevri techniques (huge clay pots that ferment underground) atrophied during the Captive Nation years, they persisted household to household, bottle to bottle, like winemaking samizdat. With a resurgence of interest in Georgian culture underway, many micro-wineries are now producing for an export market (largely Japan, where they know fine wine). Ironically, the boom in international interest really exploded when Russia placed an embargo on Georgian wine.

OBIW is a very casual film that was literally shot on an iPhone, but its lowkey nature suits its subject and participants. Although there is a very serious side to this story, Railsback focuses on the positive. There is a real camaraderie shared by the vintners and Quinn, as well as a spirit of joie de vivre when it is time to imbibe (and sing). There is also a palpable sense of excitement when long dormant regional wines are successfully revived—in one case after an estimated hiatus of three hundred years.

We also share a justified feeling of optimism that this qvevri renaissance can help fuel an economic revival. After all, their wines are organic and exclusive—perfect for the export market. It is just a breezy, down-to-earth viewing experience, like sharing a fine bottle of wine with new friends, amid a gorgeous scenic backdrop. Highly recommended for wine connoisseurs and those interested in post-Soviet economic and cultural developments, Our Blood is Wine opens this Friday (3/16) at the Village East in New York and the Music Box Theatre in Chicago.