The documentary, “Red Obsession,” is about how mainland China’s rich are driving up wine prices in France’s Bordeaux region benefits from Russell Crowe’s narration although what Crowe has to do with China or Bordeaux is a mystery. Directed and written by the Australian documentary team of Warwick Ross and Rob Coe, the film starts with the song lyrics, “I put a spell on you” and while I love that song, I’ll never learn to appreciate Bordeaux for its wine. Shot in 2011, and released in 2013, this Australian film pits the eager rich Chinese buyers against the European journalists and vintners.
First we get a history of the Bordeaux area and meet some of its families who have been in the wine business for centuries. The grape vines were originally planted by the Romans, but years have narrowed down the areas that not only have the best management, but also the best soil and weather conditions. Some credit goes to Napoleon Bonaparte who ordered the wines ranked (1855) and based on these rankings, some chateaux became jewels in the crown of Bordeaux.
Napoleon saying: “Napoleon also gets credit for another thing, predicting the power of China. An intertitle attributes Napoleon saying: “When the dragon awakes, she will shake the world.”
Originally, the main market wasn’t China, but the Americans. And then, China opened the gates to capitalism and the consumer market worldwide expanded. Rupert Hoogewerf (Chinese name: 胡润; pinyin: Hú Rùn), publisher of the Hu Run Report or the Hurun Rich List, notes that a decade ago, there was one US dollar billionaire in China, today, there were 271 that he could identify, but that was like the tip of an iceberg. There were probably 600 US dollar billionaires in China now–more than in the US.
According to Hong Kong-based, Korean-American wine critic Jeannie Cho Lee MW, China including Hong Kong has become the largest importer of Bordeaux wines. But is it only a market for billionaires? Will the Bordeaux wines becomes too valuable to drink?
Picking up on a new market, one vintner decided it was necessary to have someone based there: Thibault Pontallier of Chateau Margaux. In a 2011 marketing ploy, the company decided “to promote the beauty of women in China and promote the beauty of wine in Bordeaux. Using the contestants of the Miss China Universe, they instruct these beautiful and ambitious young ladies during a wine tasting.
There are peculiarities of the Chinese market such as a preference for Lafite which might be because of Chinese gangster films and, of course, for the lucky number eight, which Chateaux Lafite Rothschild decided to use by stamping the Chinese character for eight on their 2008 bottles.
As with anything that has to do with the Chinese and mainland China’s lax copyright law enforcement, the fakes have already begun to appear for those who can’t afford the real thing or don’t want to spend that kind of cash. Other more honest endeavors included attempting to match the quality of wines, doing well enough to win an award in blind tastings at the Decanter World Wine Awards. Winery He Lan Qing Xue’s Jia Bei Lan 2009 Cabernet blend has won the Red Bordeaux Varietal Over £10 International Trophy in 2011, beating out more than 12,000 wines. Winemaker Li Demei who has been consulting at the windery since 2006, trained in Bordeaux and did an internship at Chateau Palmer, one of the wineries covered in the documentary.
With the competition from Asia, one wonders if the Bordeaux wineries will survive, but one vintner states, “We need to please people and not to impress them.” The film ends with Peggy Lee’s “Fever,” likely an elusion to the waning interest in Bordeaux by the fickle Chinese billionaires.
The documentary won the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Best Feature Length Documentary for Warwick Ross and Best Direction in a Documentary for Ross and Roach. Warwick Ross is also a vigneron and his winery, Portsea Estate Wines, on the south coast of Victoria, Australia has won national and international awards.”Red Obsession” can currently be streamed on Amazon Prime.