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Chicago sommelier Jeremy Quinn takes an up-close look at wine grapes in the Republic of Georgia.

FEATURES

Wine in His Veins

By David Zivan

Photo Courtesy of Music Box Films

03.05.18

When sommelier Jeremy Quinn went to the Republic of Georgia in search of wine’s origins, he found traditions that hadn’t changed in millennia. A new documentary by Emily Railsback, opening for a limited run March 16 at the Music Box, chronicles the astonishing journey.

CS: Our Blood is Wine had its world premiere last week.
JQ: Yes—at the Berlin International Film Festival. We sold out both screenings.

I have to ask you—what sent you to the Republic of Georgia?
The longer I worked with wine, the more I needed to get back to how wine began. And everything I read indicated that Georgia was the place. I couldn’t taste those wines here in America at that time. And you can only read about something for so long before you realize you have to go there and really experience it. I realized that I couldn’t go any further with my wine life without getting intimate with what what was happening there.

You visited first in Spring of 2014, then returned.
I came back late that summer with the intent of closing down my American life: putting things in storage, handing off my job, and then taking my money and jumping over there on a risk and a prayer. At that time there was no concept of any film. I had been offered a casual sommelier role at a wine bar and restaurant in Tbilisi—the capital. I was to help write their wine list, educate their staff and customers—and also learn myself.

Tell us a bit about the wines.
The whites tend to be amber in color—they’re not really transparent or crystal clear. The number one white grape is Rkasiteli. They tend to have more tannin, a great deal of body in terms of the palate feel, and flavor-wise always tending toward the tropical. They have a really rich acidity, not sharp like a sauvignon blanc but thicker, almost like a curd. Cheesy, nutty and primal. And the reds, depending on what grape they are from—the number one is Saperavi—tend to be a great combination of really snappy and vivid and very dark and inky in the glass. They’re well known for staining the wine glass.

When you say you went looking for the origins of wine, when are we talking about here?
The current archeological research runs back to about 6,000 BC, before our species learned how to write. We didn’t even know how to make the wheel at that time but we were making wine. The most current thinking is that Georgia was one of many places where wine began.

Why all at once?
Our species reached a critical mass where wine became possible in terms of cultivation and farming. There are places in Northern Greece where that was happening, in Northern Africa and Egypt where that was happening and in Southern France where that was happening, but what makes Georgia special is that the deep origins of wine making were never lost. Never interrupted. You can watch a family farmer work and see how things were 8,000 years back. And that’s not the case in those other places.

And that’s what people have been responding to in the film?
I think we were able to capture the reality of that in Georgia and show it in such a way that the film goes beyond the topics of wine or place or history.

Opens March 16 for a limited time. Visit musicboxfilms.com for more information.