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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Red Obsession: Wine, Power & The Color of Green

Red Obsession, the first documentary made by Australian filmmakers Warick Ross and David Roach, is narrated by Russell Crowe. “That voice of Maximus lingered with me,” Ross says which is why he tapped the Oscar winner’s resonant husky voice. Born in Hong Kong Ross always had a fascination with China but beyond that he is both a filmmaker and winemaker but as he told me, “The wine films I’d always seen were all about rain, sun, tannins and acids to the score of Vivaldi.” Boring, right? Ross’s approach was different.

“We started off making a film about wine but it became something else; that political and economic power shift from West to East.” Red Obsession, about Bordeaux wine and its unlikely China connection, begins with the basics of France’s legendary vineyards. First planted by the Romans the region has attained mythical status, catapulting the top echelon wines into market values similar to that of a Picasso. That is due to the promotional efforts of the Bordelais; that group of top tier wineries including Château Lafite, Margaux, Latour, and others. And the Bordelais may love red wine, but they adore green money. In the past decade Bordeaux wine prices have risen 1,000%, making it, ironically, too valuable to drink.
I shot this when I visited the Great Wall - a once in a lifetime experience!
Bordeaux long depended on the U.S. and UK as its financial base, but power and greed, so the filmmakers suggest, got the better of the Bordelais and they turned their attention to Shang Hi, Hong Kong and Beijing. Thus the 75-minute film explores the newfound purchasing power of the Chinese. The film suggests there are at least 600 billionaires in China which is currently the largest importer of Bordeaux in the world. “The Chinese had put Château Lafite Rothschild on a pedestal,” admits Ross. “It was selling for $2,400 (USD) a bottle during the height in May/June of 2011.” This re-birth of power and money is expressed in buying the worlds most expensive wine, and as one Chinese collector in the film says, she wants her prestigious wine regardless if she drinks it or not. That kind of comment saddens any wine lover, but also reveals the raw commercial side of wine. Beautifully shot film by Emmy award winning cinematographer Lee Pulbrook, Red Obsession is a lesson on wine, politics, marketing, and the new global wealth. It’s a film for wine folks, students of economics, those fascinated with China, and anyone curious about brand, image and the cultivation of luxury.
I adored my time in China. Everyone needs to visit!

Director Warick Ross’s Top Five Bordeaux Choices (you know, wine for the rest of us!)
Château Grand-Puy Lacoste – “A giant killer, well below First Growth prices. Highly regarded amongst the Bordelais themselves – good value Fifth Growth for what you get.” Around $55.

Château Batailley – “Terrific value and consistently good. The best value of these five.” Around $45

Reserve de la Comtesse – “An elegant second wine from 2nd Growth
Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, ages beautifully.” Around $50

Alter Ego Palmer – “The second wine from the fabulous
Château Palmer and made by the charismatic Thomas Duroux. Good value at the moment, well off its highs of 2010.” Around $60.

Château Certan – A wonderful refined and elegant right bank Bordeaux. Not cheap but consistently rated in the top 10 of the Merlot dominant right bank wines. $140.

(note: The original article, of which this is derived from, I wrote for The Hollywood Reporter published in September, 2013: THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

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