Red Obsession

Chinese Billionaire and his $60m cellarChinese sex-toy billionaire and his $60-million cellar

Last week I went to see a great documentary at the Dendy Newtown about the legendary Bordeaux wines, called: “Red Obsession“, one of Sydney Festival hit films a few months ago. It was directed by Warwick Ross and David Roach, and the latter was present at the Dendy for a Q&A after the projection.

The idea for the film came about when Warwick Ross found himself sitting next to Master Sommelier Andrew Caillard on a Sydney-London flight, end of 2010. Naturally, as would be the case between a sommelier and a vigneron, the conversation quickly turned to all things wine, and Andrew Caillard told Ross about the exceptional 2009 vintage of Bordeaux wines, the “perfect vintage”. But what was even more extraordinary was that the next vintage promised to be as good and two perfect vintages in a row was something unheard of before. The 2009 wines were already commanding astronomical prices, and the 2010 vintage threatened to reach even crazier prices than its predecessor.

Chateau Margaux 2Château Margaux

Ross was surprised to hear that though, considering the context of Global Financial Crisis, but Caillard told him that these days, the main buyers of the wines were from China, who had supplanted the US as the biggest market for these wines. It got him thinking… but they had to act fast, as the Bordeaux ‘En Primeur’ campaign, where all the wine journalists and critics meet in Bordeaux to taste the new vintage and where the prices are the set, was to take place only three weeks later!

Vineyard, BordeauxCentury-old vineyards in Bordeaux

The result is this beautiful documentary, very cinematic, fascinating and narrated by Russell Crowe himself. There are great aerial shots of the Bordeaux vineyards and châteaux: Lafite, Margaux, Latour and the crew got to interview the owners or directors of the biggest names in Bordeaux wine industry, some of whom are real characters (Christian Moueix from Château Pétrus was a good one!). They even got Francis Ford Coppola, who has his own winery (Inglenook Winery), to talk to them.

Horse & cart hauling grapes, Chateau Pontet Canet, BordeauxHorse ploughing the vineyard in Bordeaux 

We are then transported to the beautiful, timeless chateaux of Bordeaux to the ultra-modern, fast megacities of China, where we are introduced to the super-rich buyers who have been taken by the “wine fever” and who don’t mind forking out hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single bottle of Château Lafite.

Although there wasn’t any wine culture per se in China until recently, the new economic boom has seen the wealthy Chinese turn to all the luxury goods from the West, clothes, jewellery, cars… and now Fine French wine, which is seen as the ultimate sign of refinement and knowledge of Western culture.

We meet a sex toy manufacturer at his home, where we find the most extraordinary cellar, filled from bottom to ceiling with the world’s most expensive wines, for a total worth of $60 million!!!

David Roach tells us during Q&A that, as opposed to buyers who just invest in wines, without ever seeing the bottles, much less drinking them, Chinese buyers don’t seem to hesitate bringing the wine home and popping it open to drink it and share it with friends.

Apartment blocks tower over vines at Chateau Changyu Castel, Shandong ProvinceApartment blocks tower over vines at Chateau Changyu Castel,
Shandong Province

We meet Chinese winemakers, who try to recreate Bordeaux Châteaux in China, as the demand for Bordeaux wine has now far exceeded the supply. Some of these Chinese wines are even starting to be noticed at international wine competitions!

Workers at Chateau Changyu AFIP near Beijing 2Chinese vineyard workers

On his own admission, and unlike Warwick Ross who is a vigneron, David Roach wasn’t a wine buff before working on that movie and he told us a funny anecdote about it. He thought a little gold or silver medal sticker on the bottle was a sure sign of a good wine, until one day he brought a bottle to a dinner, confident of his choice (it had a gold sticker on it!), until a friend pointed out to what the sticker actually said: “Great with pizza”!

However since filming the documentary, he improved on his wine appreciation skills and even got to taste the best wine of his life at Château Yquem, a Sauternes, despite his initial dislike of sweeter wines.

Barrel Room, Chateau LatourBarrel room, Château Latour

A member of the audience asked how global warming was tackled by winemakers, to which David Roach responded: “They are very concerned. Strangely enough, sometimes it actually helps. And a lot of farmers will tell you this: there are some areas where the climate change is going to assist for a decade or two.” But he said that a lot of winemakers, even here in Australia, are looking at moving the vineyards up to higher regions, so that they are more protected against extreme weather: frost and heat waves.

The question of the currency of the film has been raised and it is true that since the movie was shot, the situation has changed drastically: the latest Bordeaux yields didn’t produce wines anywhere near the quality of the 2009 and 2010 vintages, and their prices dropped by 60% the following year, and by another 50% last year.

Roach also explained that by the time the movie was done, Chinese buyers had already started to explore other regions of France, like Burgundy, Champagne, as well as other wine countries like Australia. The Chinese sex toy manufacturer’s cellar actually contained as much Penfolds Grange as Bordeaux!

What’s more, in a dramatic twist, Roach told us that a major hail storm destroyed almost 90% of the Bordeaux crop just a couple of weeks ago! The crops will be ruined for at least the next two years, says David Roach, and while he thinks the big chateaux will survive, it might sadly mean the end for smaller winemakers from the area.

Even though the situation has already changed since the movie was shot, it was a great story to capture, and it shows that Churchill’s quote at the start of the movie rings truer than ever: “Beware the sleeping dragon,  for when she awakes the Earth will shake.”

If you have the slightest interest in French wine, do yourself a favour and go watch this documentary, if only for the beautiful cinematography and to admire the Bordeaux châteaux and vineyards.

And if you’ve already seen the movie, please do post your thoughts on it in the comments section, I’d love to hear your opinion!

“Red Obsession” is now showing at the Dendy and Palace Cinemas.

All photography provided by Roadshow Films.

3 responses to “Red Obsession

  1. A brilliant doco. Neal did a quick review on our blog a week or so ago. Cheers!

  2. Yes, best doco I’ve seen in ages – bit of a thriller actually. Fascinating subject, great characters, interesting times. Had Churchill seen “Red Obsession” he may have said: Beware the sleeping dragon, for when she awakes she will devour the Frogs!

  3. Pingback: A Year in Burgundy – Documentary | The French Wench

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