Red Obsession is a compelling film. It tells the story of the rise in interest in the top wines of Bordeaux, and how China has fallen in love with wine. With the 2009 and 2010 vintages, prices reached unprecedented levels. The Chinese market has embraced these wines and is now the major market for Bordeaux, as accelerating prices have pushed the top wines beyond the means of traditional markets.
For the newly-rich Chinese, fine wine is incredibly alluring. The recent history of China has caused a break in the link with the past. For us all, there is a strong need to be grounded in our historical contex – we long to know where we have come from, because it is intrinsic to our identity. With the disruption in Chinese identity caused by the horrible years of the cultural revolution, it is only natural that people should look elsewhere. For some, the French wine tradition of Bordeaux proves to be such an alternative.
The film begins by setting the scene in Bordeaux, which rests on its tradition and radiates a sense of quiet, assured wealth. Then, there’s an abrupt change of pace, as we head to Shanghai, a fast, loud, vibrant new city. The contrast between the old world wine culture and the Chinese is made stark with some footage from the Robert Parker tasting at Wine Future Hong Kong 2011. For the Chinese, wine has celebrity status. It’s Hollywood. Parker is beset by autograph hunters. When the doors of the tasting are opened, people run to get the best seats.
The film interviews some of the wine collectors in China who are eagerly purchasing top Bordeaux. We meet the founder of a sex toy company who has amassed an incredible wine collection in a very short time. We also meet a Chinese woman who can’t help bidding on top Bordeaux wines at auction. She just has to possess those bottles. Whatever the price.
Filmmaker Warwick Ross, an Aussie, was present at the screening I attended, and took some questions at the end, along with Simon Staples of Berry Bros & Rudd (he made a brief appearance in the film).
The idea for the film came from a discussion Ross had with Andrew Caillard MW, an auctioneer based in Australia. They were on a flight together, and by the time they landed, they’d worked out the core of the film. It turns out that Ross also has a wine background: he owns Portsea Estate in the Mornington Peninsula, as well as working as a filmmaker. Caillard was very helpful in getting introductions in Bordeaux, and this also explains why he’s featured so much in the film, even though you wouldn’t really associate him closely with Bordeaux.
Access to the top Bordeaux Chateaux was tricky, even with Caillard’s valuable introductions. They found that for the first few interviews they just got the glossy answers: people had been scared off by Mondovino, where Nossiter managed to make Bordeaux look silly. So they had to keep going back, sometimes four or five times, before they got the real interview. For the Chinese collectors, the only way in was through personal introductions, and once again, some persistence was required.
The film looks beautiful, with great camera work. Warwick says that he shot most of it on the Arri Alexa, but that some of the sequences were shot on DSLRs (Canon 7D and 5DII). In one sequence, there’s a time-lapse of a sky scraper being constructed in China in just three weeks. There are some gorgeous helicopter shots of Bordeaux, too. Ross says that it took five hours to get the cameras attached to the helicopter, which meant they almost missed the window to film. In the end, the early evening light was beautiful, though.
It is still difficult to get wine into China legally, says Simon Staples, who lives in Hong Kong. Lots of people buy in Hong Kong where there is no wine tax and import the wine themselves into China, which still has a 50% wine tax. ‘If that floodgate is opened,’ says Staples, ‘we can’t afford to buy wine any more!’
Things move fast, and already this film may be slightly out of date concerning the current situation of wine in China. But that doesn’t make it any less compelling, because it is telling a story about an amazing time in the history of fine wine, and it tells it very well indeed. It’s a perspective that many of us in and around the wine trade haven’t got to grips with yet.
Here is the trailer to the film: