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Red Obsession from Bordeaux to China

Posted: Saturday, 28 September 2013 15:33

Red Obsession from Bordeaux to China

Sep 28: Contrary to what it appears to be, Red Obsession is neither the name of a perfume nor any iconic French red wine label from Bordeaux but a new wine related documentary movie produced by Warwick Ross and directed by him and David Roach in which Russell Crowe narrates China’s possibly fading love affair with Bordeaux that was filmed over a 14 month period spanning the release of Bordeaux’s 2009 to 2011 vintages

Click For Large ViewThe 78-minute docufilm with narration by Hollywood star Russell Crowe, opens with a view of Bordeaux and for the first 22 minutes the film takes you to various chateaux and their senior managers or winemakers and journalists like Oz Clarke, Christian Moueix - owner of Ch. Hosanna and consultant to Ch Petrús, Thomas Duroux, CEO of Chateau Palmer, Corinne Mentzelopoulos, owner of Chateau Margaux, Federer Engerer, President of Ch Latour, Francis Coppola, Paul Pontallier of Château Margaux, Jancis Robinson MW, Michel Bettane, Jean-Guillaume-Pratt, the then CEO of Chateau Cos d’Esternoul (he has since left the chateau), Gary Boom, of Bordeaux Index, all of whom generally concur that though the fate of Bordeaux has been linked to that of the world economies for centuries but it has a mystery, charm and the wines that cannot be replicated anywhere. They talk about the passion for the region, its terroir and the love that goes into making a good wine and how it is the best winemaking region of the world.

Click For Large ViewThe script takes you to the 1855 Classification and generally sticks to the left bank. The interviewees emphasize the impact of weather conditions in each vintage. As Duroux says, talking to his vines, ‘I know you as a soul. But what do you have to tell me this year.’ It’s not just a question of terroir, it’s a piece of history, a soul, style and DNA, he says. President Engerer has been with Latour for 18 years and is still enchanted even more and talks about the vibration in the region.

Andrew Caillard MW, the associate producer of the film, met Ross on a flight when they discussed the fabulous 2010 vintage of Bordeaux and the impact on the growing Chinese market and ended up making the movie, talks of the legendary vintages of the past 50 years-1961, 1982 and 2009 (therefore 1945 is excluded). He says that 2010 would also reach an iconic status. A chart borrowed from Wine Futures conference in Hong Kong in 2011 (where even I may be seen for 5 seconds ‘shooting’ Robert Parker whose pictures were later published in delWine) shows a 1000% price rise of the top Bordeaux wines during the last 10 years, making them too valuable to drink.

Click For Large ViewJancis Robinson MW, who speaks at an En Primeur tasting, of ‘fine wine as striking the right chord’ does admit “we are all pawns and part of helping the Bordeaux Chateau owner get as much money as possible,” when she talks about the En Primeur of 2010 legendary vintage. Michel Bettane, the most regarded French journalist, talks about the Bordeaux experience being simply ethereal.

Dragon Shakes the World

Click For Large View“When the dragon awakes, she will shake the world,” - Napoleon Bonaparte appears on the frame and we  are flown  to the bustling city of Shanghai where we are shown a skyscraper coming up in 15 days and the background of economic power achieved during the past 20 years with the new role of wine as a luxury product. We are told that there are more Chinese dollar billionaires in number (about 600) than in the US (271)- in China not all Billionaires are known so one can only estimate, says Gillempert Schwarz, the wine author and consultant.

To Hell and Back

Reflecting on the recent history of Chine, Singapore based Bordeaux expert Ch’ng Poh Tiong tells us, 'The Chinese have gone to hell and back so they don’t have any fear. How can we lose? At worst we will be back to zero! So they are dynamic and shoot for the stars.’ Fongyee Walker, a Beijing-based educator and an advanced stage MW student, tells us about a private investor who owns a $42 million private club. ‘They buy wine as status symbol, to show what they have done; it gives them position (of power),’ she tells us, warning the marketers, however, ‘Don’t forget it is China. Things are different here.’

Click For Large ViewWe are introduced to PeterTseng, who made his billions by manufacturing sex toys and has China’s largest private wine collection, valued at US$60m. He says unabashedly, “When I was younger, I preferred sex. As I get older, I prefer wine,” as he chuckles and says, ‘Lafite cases are falling all over.’ We meet other private collectors including a lady who boasts that if she likes a wine at an auction, her hand stays raised till the others walk away from the bid. You also see frames of a wine auction presented by Christie's with its Head of Wine for China, Simon Tam, co-owner of HKIWSC (wine competition) with Debra Meiburg, sitting in on the head table.

You are reminded that in China Brand image is everything and Bordeaux has done a wonderful job. Lafite (pronounced as La-fee) is also considered good for health and ladies’ skin. Mystery of the number 8 bringing good luck and the special marketing gimmick by Lafite of inscribing 8 on the 2008 vintage, resulting in prices skyrocketing overnight is also shown (the Beijing Olympics was declared open on 8-8-08 at 8 pm!) Jeannie Cho Lee MW from Hong Kong is also shown in several frames talking about the Chinese thirst for Bordeaux wines.

Counterfeit wines in China

Click For Large ViewIt’s generally said in the Indian cocktail circuits that India consumes more Black Label than produced in Scotland. Crowe says that in China there is more Chateau Lafite 1982 than was ever produced! Like most luxury products, counterfeits are a way of life in China. ‘Many counterfeiters think of it as a work of art and consider it honorable copying an artist with repute’, says Fongyee. Debra Meiburg MW makes a short appearance to tell us, ‘I have been to wineries where you can walk in the door, open a portfolio of labels and take what you want.’ Just as in the fake luxury goods rackets, you don’t know the boss. Richard Shen, owner of Chateau Laulan Ducos is shown in his purchased Bordeaux Chateaux. Most wine will be exported back to China. The Chinese defend this practice as better than what the Japanese did in the 60s and 70s when they bought the chateaux, dismantled them brick by brick and transported them to Japan.

We are told that Yantai is raising 20,000 acres of new vineyard lands every year and will help China become the biggest producer in the world in 4 decades. Jim Sun, a Chinese journalist says that the proud Chinese believe they can do anything better and be more successful. But suitable agricultural land is getting unaffordable and one must look far. We are shown frames of the Gobi desert where the Chinese are preparing land for grapes. In Ningxia province, a fresh investment of $500 million is underway for a new winery by the state-owned Cofco.

Chinese Wines of Quality

Focus is now shifted to Demei Li, Bordeaux-trained consultant winemaker to He Lan Qing Xue winery whose 2009 vintage red wine was declared the Best Red Wine in the over £10 category, at Decanter World Awards in 2011. A visibly surprised Steven Spurrier, Chairman says, ‘it was surprising to find a Chinese wine winning Gold and then the International Trophy. We tasted three times-what can I say-it was completely blind!’

Bubble burst?

Would the prices of Bordeaux wines in China have a continuous climb? Skepticism prevails through the film at a few junctures. The focus now shifts to May 2012 when you are told that there has been 60% drop in prices, like jumping off Mount Everest.

Red Obsession is a well-made docufilm with excellent cinematic shots especially of Bordeaux chateaux. It highlights the Chinese love affair with Bordeaux Click For Large Viewand the un-satiated thirst for their wines. It also depicts a romantic and mystical touch to Bordeaux as it tries to show the shift in the economic power to China. It is a must-see film for Bordeaux lovers and those following Chinese progress but will be equally enjoyable for every global wine aficionado.

It opened in Hong Kong and Australia on 15 August through Village Road Show, partners of the Indian film exhibitor PVR. But it is hardly likely to ever be shown in a cinema hall in India due to a very limited audience. Therefore, one would need to download from a movie sharing channel like iTunes. It appeared in the US on September 13.

But it has made my wish to go to Bordeaux soon, possibly at an En Primeur tasting, very strong and China is already on my wish-list but I am getting closer to it after watching the film a few times.

Subhash Arora

Tags: Red Obsession, Warwick Ross, David Roach, Russell Crowe, Bordeaux, Andrew Caillard MW, China


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