Our Blood is Wine, directed by Emily Railsback, released by Music Box Films, 2018. Available as video-on-demand via iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, etc.
Our Blood is Wine is a fascinating look at traditional wine-making in Georgia (the republic, not the U.S. state) and how it survived the traumatic Soviet era to be widely celebrated today as a natural wine icon. This documentary has been made with the same restraint and respect for tradition that the Georgians use in making their qvevri wines. The wines let nature tell its story to a greater extent than most wines do. And the film lets Georgia tell its story in a very natural way, avoiding unnecessary intervention. Highly recommended.
I admit that I was a bit concerned when I learned about Our Blood is Wine. Georgia is unique and I worried that the film would treat it with the generic techniques that are so often found in wine films — sunny vineyard scenes, the changing of the seasons, pick-up trucks with faithful dogs. You know what I mean. These scenes are charming and beautiful, but they are clichés. They could be anywhere, so they end up being nowhere. Wine films are filled with them.
Georgia is different, special, so the film needed to be different, too. Sitting at a key geopolitical crossroads, Georgia has experienced invasion, occupation, and foreign rule repeatedly and yet somehow the people, their culture, Christian religion, unique language and alphabet, have all survived. Georgians are survivors and the same is true of their wines.
Our Blood is Wine shows the hard work and sacrifice of artisan winemakers in Georgia instead of sunny vineyard scenes. We travel along with Chicago-based sommelier Jeremy Quinn, our inquisitive guide, but he is not the star of this show. He usefully yields the screen to the Georgians who have created these wines, preserved the indigenous grape varieties, and crafted the fantastic qvevri themselves.
One thing that keeps the film moving is the fact that we mainly see people at work and often (as in a scene where several sweating shirtless men carefully move a large, awkward, heavy qvevri into place) the actions speak as loud as any words ever could. The hard work contrasts with the beautiful Georgian music that forms the film’s soundtrack.
The Soviet era, which the film shows through archival footage, was particularly hard on Georgian wine. Georgia-born Joseph Stalin made sure that he had a constant supply of good wine from his home region, but the rest of the country’s wine industry was not so lucky. Private vineyards were seized and industrial wine production replaced private cellars to satisfy undiscriminating palates elsewhere in the Soviet empire.
Traditional wine-making practices survived through home production and even today most Georgian families make wine for their own consumption, some of it very good. Georgian wine consumption is high by U.S. standards. The rule of thumb for a party is two bottles of wine for each female guest and three bottles for each male. The domestic industry is necessarily focused on export since it is hard to compete with homemade wine for local sales.
There are, as I wrote in 2016, three wine industries in Georgia today. Some large producers focus on sweeter wines (which can be very good) to sell to traditional Russian and former-Soviet markets. Another industry has grown up around exports of clean international-style wines made with indigenous Georgian grapes. And, finally, a relatively small craft industry exists to satisfy the growing global demand for the natural wines made in qvevri — traditional hand-made clay pots that are buried in the earth. These wines and the people who make them and love them are the focus of Our Blood is Wine.
Sue and I were delighted when, at the end of the film, the art of Georgian wine was driven home through the work of an artist who actually paints with wine and the juice of the grapes instead of oil or watercolor. Saperavi art? Could it be, we wondered? Yes! The artist was our friend Elene Rakviashvili, who helped us to learn about Georgian wine and culture when we visited in 2016.
Our Blood is Wine is worth seeking out for what it teaches about Georgia, history, culture, politics, and of course wine. One of the best wine documentaries of recent years.
Wait… 2 bottles per female and 3 per male!?!?!? I’d be afraid to go to one of their parties! (I’d still go). Regards, Nick
Sent from my iPhone
The Georgian parties we went to were very good indeed.
I heard that the qvevri and very “minimal interventionist” style of winemaking gives very little to no hangover, which might explain the high ratio of bottle/person. Anyone know anything about this possible myth?
One of our Georgia friends seems to be very sensitive to slufur, which is minimal in many qvevri wines. Although sulfur deso not cause hangovers to the best of my knowledge, this might have something to do with what you have heard.
The bottle count might seem high, but there is always ridicules amounts of food and these parites last well into the early morning hours, so two bottle for a woman and three for a man isn’t really too high considering a supra can often be 6-7 hours long.
“the generic techniques that are so often found in wine films — sunny vineyard scenes, the changing of the seasons, pick-up trucks with faithful dogs. You know what I mean. These scenes are charming and beautiful, but they are clichés. They could be anywhere, so they end up being nowhere. Wine films are filled with them.”
Good point! The food is really wonderful, too.
This film reminded more of ethnographic cinema than documentary. The main appeal to me was the thrill of seeing a foreign culture making small-scale agricultural family-owned wine in a distant location I am throughly unfamiliar with.
Most scholars prefer that all artistry be eliminated from ethnographic films so that the visual data recorded by the camera remain as fresh and uninterpreted as possible. And that’s what we have here with this film, which appears to be shot on an iPhone, albeit not a criticism, since Steven Soderberg’s latest movie was shot on an iPhone, too.
The audience for these films typically consists of members of a university or museum community for whom entertainment is less significant than authenticity. And we have authenticity in spades with every image shown and every Georgian folk song sung.
The film is part vinicultural, part archeology, part ampelography, and wholly satisfying if you’re a wine geek like me for creation stories.
Great response, especially coming from a critical viewer like you, Thomas.
Excellent review Mike!
Thank you, Aldo!