2009 and 2010 were extraordinary years for winemakers in the famous French region of Bordeaux. Not one, but two “once in a century” vintages produced wines of staggering quality along with record prices to match. Notable in the the rush to acquire these great wines was the presence of many buyers from China, a market that until recent, had only a limited interest in wine.
Red Obsession is a documentary that seeks to understand this dynamic. The film’s basic story is; Bordeaux is a rich, old, storied wine producing region, China has a lot of cashed up billionaires, eager to impress with their new found knowledge of wine, this could be a disaster for the wine industry, but then again, maybe not.
Despite some solid cinematography and interviews with well known wine luminaries, from merchants, to auctioneers and buyers along with high profile wine writers and masters like as Jancis Robinson, Oz Clarke, Debra Meiburg and Jeannie Cho Lee this film fails to convince.
It’s not just the distractingly laconic narration by Russell Crowe or the patronising, “you wouldn’t believe how much money the Chinese have” tone; it’s the lack of a logical narrative structure to hold the film together.
After the two spectacular vintages of 2009 and 2010, 2011 was a disappointment, with poor wines, poor yields and poor sales. The filmmakers suggest the lower demand from Chinese buyers in this one year might mean demand from the East for fine wine was tapering off. Oddly, the idea Chinese buyers might be keeping their powder dry for a better vintage, or simple buying in other places doesn’t even register.
Red Obsession is written and directed by David Roach and Warwick Ross, best known for their work on the (truly awful) Yahoo Serious films of 90s (Young Einstein, Reckless Kelly and Mr. Accident). One wonders how this story may have developed in the hands of more experienced documentarians.
The story of fine wine in China and the changing shape of the global wine trade is a fascinating one. Sadly Red Obsession doesn’t manage to do it justice.