Review: The Art and Tradition of Georgian Winemaking in Our Blood Is Wine

Image courtesy Music Box Films.

Documentaries about passionate people also find a way to move me deeply, and you would be hard pressed to find a more passionate group than families in the Republic of Georgia who continue a unique 8,000-year tradition and process of making some of the world’s finest and rarest wines. Filming on an iPhone, Chicago-based filmmaker Emily Railsback followed award-winning sommelier Jeremy Quinn into this former Soviet-controlled country to understand this completely organic process—enormous, handmade clay pots that are filled with crushed grapes and buried in the ground for months—and the differences in the various regional wines.

But the filmmakers are not content with documenting the way the wine is produced; they also capture the rituals that surround production, ranging from religious practices to singing to inviting the most special people for the first tasting of the finished wine. Using rare archival footage, Our Blood Is Wine also goes into the history of the region during the toughest times under Soviet control (when land and product was taken away wholesale) to decades when the regions were forced to produce wine of such poor quality in areas where production was near impossible that it actually poisoned those who consumed it. Each family interviewed has a unique history of survival and revival, and you can see how much of their soul they put into each bottle, even those bottles that stay with the family and are never sold.

With Quinn leading the way, each visit is less of an anthropological experience and more of a bonding between winery and appreciative consumer, who has the knowledge and curiosity of an expert with the barely contained enthusiasm of a genuine fanboy. Our Blood Is Wine teaches us as much about Georgian culture as it does about wines, and the only downside of the film is that we aren’t there with this group sampling each selection, sharing meals, and making new friends along the way. The film embraces both its subjects and the audience in a kind of cultural exchange that you rarely find in films like this. (Full disclosure: one of the film’s producers is William Schopf, president and co-founder of Music Box Films, which is distributing the movie.)

The film opens today at the Music Box Theatre. On Saturday, March 17, at 1pm, Our Blood Is Wine will be introduced by University of Toronto archaeologist Stephen Batiuk, who will discuss his recent findings on winemaking in Georgia 8,000 years ago. Filmmaker Emily Railsback and sommelier Jeremy Quinn will join Prof. Battiuk for a post-screening Q&A. After the show, ticket holders can enjoy the rare opportunity to sample four Georgian natural wines in a special tasting hosted by the winemakers featured in the film. Tickets for “Wine + Film” are $15 general admission and $11 for Music Box members.

In addition, on Monday, March 19, at 7pm, filmmaker Railsback will again attend a post-screening Q&A. After the show, “Wine + Film” ticket holders can sample four Georgian natural wines. Details on these special screenings can be found at the Music Box Theatre’s website.

Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.