Monday, March 19, 2018

Must See Movie - Our Blood is Wine - Opens Online March 20

The movie opens March 20 (video on demand): see the trailer here.  
What is wine, really? Movies like Somm tend to perpetuate the crazy idea that wine appreciation is some kind of competitive sport for diners who can afford to eat in three star Michelin restaurants - and not something of the land and for the people.

Salvation comes in the form of Our Blood is Wine, which screened at the super funky (and for that reason wonderful) New Parkway Theater in Oakland last Sunday (after the Brumaire natural wine tasting) with both the filmmaker - Emily Railsback - and the film's leading man - sommelier Jeremy Quinn - on hand to answer questions after the film. (And yes, there's something of a rom-com story to their collaboration - they are a couple). That was followed by a mini tasting of Georgian wines imported by Terrell Wines.

The legndary Iago Bitarishvili makes wine in quevri in Chinuri
The untarnished, old school Georgian wines have become the flag bearer for the natural wine movement, although the Georgians' dedication extends (unlike too many of the natural winemakers in the U.S.) to tending their own vines. Their traditions date back 8,000 years and their wine-celebrating songs and toastings continue to this day (although they have tended to exclude women from the recitations and toasting traditions, Railsback and Quinn say the situation is, slowly, changing). 

The film also features the first woman winemaker, Marina Kurtanidze (Iago's wife) to make exported Georgian wines. 

I loved seeing the 400 year old vines in the film, that are simply breathtaking and awe-inspiring. Another special moment in the film is visiting Vardezia, a 12th century seat of power filled with cave churches, monasteries and frescoes - along with 185 ancient wine jars. Another great moment is learning about the modern replanting of an amphitheater once planted to vines. Add to that Georgian music, food and families featured in archival footage from a 1964 film Falling Leaves. (Note:  you can see this feature film in its entirety on YouTube.) It tells the story of a young winemaker who is prey to Soviet era corruption in the wine world.

Another highlight in the film is the discovery that Japanese wine lovers have fallen under the spell of Georgian wines; we see a few Japanese tourists in the film. 

Restauranteurs also love Georgian wines - not only are they exotic, they are also crazy cheap at wholesale prices. The U.S. State Department has even sponsored Wines of Georgia, to preserve Georgian culture when the Soviet Union withdrew its support.

About one percent of the country's exported wines are still aging their wines in quevri (giant clay pots, buried underground), a tradition that archaeologists believe goes back to the earliest winemaking times we know of (- so far). (See: Areni in nearby Armenia.) Of course, there could always be a new site to be discovered that is older than Areni, and there are several excavations in Georgia hoping to reclaim the notoriety for being the oldest winemaking site for Georgia. But no matter - those country lines didn't exist 8,000 years ago.

But most quevri wine is made and consumed at home and not exported, the couple said.
Emily Railsback and Jeremy Quinn during Q&A with the New Parkway audience
I had a lovely chat with Emily and Jeremy, discussing our mutual love of ancient wine history. It turns out the two also filmed in Turkey, Corsica and elsewhere but that footage didn't make it into this film. Hopefully there will be another.

Amazingly, Emily shot the entire film on her iPhone. 

During the Q and A, Railsback and Quinn said today there are only about 30-40,000 acres of vines now versus 140,000 under the Soviet era. The Soviets forced Georgians to stop producing their indigenous wines using their native techniques and instead forced them to make sweet wines for export to the USSR. 

The movie screened earlier this year at Berlin Film Festival and got a very upbeat film review in the New York Times this week.

Carla Capalbo, author, and a new friend, who she met
at the tasting; he knew one of the women featured in her book
I was just saying to my friend, Lissy, a great home cook, who came with me to the event that it was a shame that there wasn't a "The" book written yet about Georgian wines - Alice Feiring's book was entertaining but it wasn't a travel and wine guide - when I stumbled up the stairs into the tasting to see Carla Capalbo, a food and wine writer based in the UK and Italy, standing there with her brand new title Tasting Georgia, a collection of recipes and winery profiles from the different regions of Georgia. 

This book isn't entirely about wine, of course - which means there still is an opening for a beautiful photo book of all the wines and wineries and regions - but it's a helluva good start. And its real focus is on food and wine.

It's also an overview tour of the country, including areas where tourists often don't venture. Capalbo shot all the photos herself. 

It's a splendid book and I bought one on the spot. You can buy one on where it's getting crazy good reviews.

Here are some more of the wines we tasted. (No idea where my notes are). Enjoy the film!

You can also read a lovely interview with Emily on Sprudge.

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