Even if you “know nothing of wine” (like Ned “Kingsley” Zissou in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou), you probably know that the Bordeaux region of France produces what is considered the finest wine in the world. The documentary Red Obsession, which is narrated by Russell Crowe (who has a fantastic voice for narration), looks at the recent history of Bordeaux wine and how in the wake of the 2008 U.S. economic recession its primary buyers changed from Americans to Chinese. Nonetheless, this documentary isn’t just for “winos” — anyone who is interested in world economics and the simple concept of supply and demand will learn a lot from this film.
Red Obsession starts with a brief history of winemaking in Bordeaux and why its weather has made it the top area for growing wine grapes for centuries. However, an undercurrent discussed by experts (including film director and winemaker Francis Ford Coppola) is the idea that there is something simply magical about Bordeaux wine that sets it apart from any other type of wine. After that introduction, the documentary focuses on the 2010 vintage of wines. While always high quality, wines from Bordeaux only receive the incredibly rare “perfect” rating from experts every twenty-five years or so. However, the 2010 vintage was the second of unprecedented “double perfect” years after 2009 (the previous “perfect” year was 1982). These two years pushed prices for Bordeaux wine into the stratosphere — in fact, prices for their wines had raised over 1000% percent since 2000 (which, as one investor points out, outperforms the stock market by a significant margin).
However, in the wake of the U.S. recession the true superpower behind the rising prices was China after expensive wine became a status symbol for China’s newly affluent. Though Bordeaux wines reached unprecedented prices, several problems emerged — first, the relatively simple economic issue of supply and demand. The Bordeaux wineries can only produce a certain amount of wine per year, often depending on the weather. In other words, the supply is always limited. But when demand raises prices to levels that only the richest “demanders” can afford, it prices out traditional markets and creates a high-priced aftermarket. The documentary poses the question of whether or not Bordeaux will end up producing its wine for a country half the world away from now on, or is it simply a fad in China? And with over one and a half billion people, how will China itself satisfy its own demands for wine? It especially becomes an issue when the luxury-obsessed new rich in China decide to collect wine in a way that is completely different from how Europeans or Americans have, mostly because of China’s vast cultural differences.
My only complaint about the documentary is that it rushes quickly through the 2011 and 2012 years after spending over an hour focusing on 2010. At only 75 minutes, writers/directors David Roach and Warwick Ross — two filmmakers who are directing their first feature — could have spent another 10 minutes bringing the audience up to speed, unless the plan is to do Red Obsession 2. So while I enjoyed Red Obsession a lot, I definitely was interested in seeing a lot more. That’s obviously not a complaint, but being that Bordeaux has been producing wine for 2000 years even 75 minutes is not enough to cover even just the last few years of its history. I’m a relatively novice wine drinker (I mean, if it’s in a bottle I’ll drink it) and I wanted to see a whole lot more.
But if you entered the film knowing “nothing of wine,” you’ll be surprised. There is so much more to a bottle than just what’s inside.
Rating: The only flaw is that it’s too short to tell the whole story (8/10).
Tribeca Film Festival Screening Times
April 25 2:30PM AMC Loews Village 7
April 27 5:30PM AMC Loews Village 7