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Wined Down: Bordeaux Gets Kicked Out of Bed while Russell Crowe Narrates
  • April 04, 2013 : 07:04
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Ten minutes into the newest film about the high-end Bordeaux wine scene—Red Obsession: Power, Passion and the Fine Wine Game—I was starting to lose heart (and almost lost my lunch). “Dammit,” I thought, “this is another example of the wine biz giving symbolic fellatio to France’s most overhyped wine region.”

While Lion Rock Films’ Red Obsession is beautifully stylized and pulled out the big guns in getting Russell "Just-give-me-the-Oscar-now-dammit" Crowe to narrate it, I don’t want wine fellatio, actual or symbolic, especially if it’s narrated by Russell Crowe.

But after the obligatory preamble about why Bordeaux is great (and its wines can certainly be great), the tone shifts—big-time—as Red Obsession chronicles the Chinese wine market coming to the global fore and doing its own fellatio impression on the Bordelais wine scene. Bordeaux returned the favor, going down on the big dollars that the Chinese heaped on the 2009 and 2010 vintages, sending prices up faster than Crowe’s blood pressure in Gladiator. Finally, after getting their conspicuous luxury goods–buying satisfaction, the Chinese turned their backs on the 2011 Bordeaux vintage, sending prices plummeting back to earth in what amounts to the wine version of kicking someone out of bed without even giving them spare change to cover the cab fare back home.

I caught up with the minds behind Red Obsession, directors Warwick Ross and David Roach (who were also behind Aussie cult classic Young Einstein), to talk about Bordeaux’s recent market face-plant. The visuals in Red Obsession are stunning. At first, it seems like a Bordeaux commercial, but then you switch gears and the tables turn on Bordeaux. What drove you to do this film? Did you know about the 2011 prices reverting before you started, or did that unfold while you were filming?

Ross: An acquaintance (subsequently good friend), Master of Wine Andrew Caillard, and I found ourselves on the same flight from Sydney to London in late 2010. Andrew knew I was a filmmaker and a vigneron, and I knew of his reputation in the Australian wine industry. The conversation took a turn when Andrew commented that since I had a love for wine and film, I should combine the two and make a film about his great love, Bordeaux. My reaction was lukewarm—most docos about wine I found overly technical, dry and designed strictly for wine nuts (with the exception of Mondovino). Andrew talked about en primeur, the event where the embryonic wines are paraded before the world’s most influential wine writers, critics and personalities—this is sell-mode, where the Chateaux are wooing critics for better scores to set higher prices—that sounded interesting. Moreover, the prices in the last few years had been skyrocketing, to the point where traditional markets like the U.S. and U.K. had dropped away, unable to pay these extraordinary prices. If the U.S. couldn’t afford them, I asked, who could? The answer was China.

I was hooked. To top it off, Andrew informed me, the rumors out of Bordeaux pointed to the 2010 being the “vintage of the century.” But hadn’t the 2009 also been touted as “vintage of the century”? Yes, replied Andrew; all part of the hype. I began seeing the narrative shaping up as the perfect storm: the world’s rarest and most desirable wines, strictly limited in production; the vintage of the century; and the cashed-up, voracious new client who wanted it all. One top Chateau owner subsequently confided that a Chinese client had called, wanting to buy the entire 2010 output for a figure that would have been around $150,000,000! We had no idea about the prices when we started. The dramatic arc we present in the film simply unfolded before our eyes: the highest price point ever reached and the subsequent dramatic crash. Was there an element of greed and hubris, or was it just making hay while the sun shone?

Roach: At that early stage we didn't know what the outcome of the 2011 en primeur would be, nor, for that matter, what a roller-coaster ride that year would become. The unfolding story was complex and fascinating, and we knew that if we were to tell this story we would need to spend time getting to know the major players, canvassing all points of view and exploring the context. We knew what kind of film we didn't want to make: a romantic, fluffy piece about "beautiful Bordeaux," like so many had done before. But neither did we want to do some sort of grainy, handheld television exposé. Warwick and I agreed that if we were going to make this film it would be a considered piece, shot for the big screen, for a broad audience, with high production values.

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