David Roach and Warwick Ross’ documentary Red Obsession sports a look as sumptuous as its subject. Shot in the Bordeaux region of France in 2010 and 2011, the film follows two seasons of winemaking, in the years immediately after the Bordeaux produced a once-in-a-generation legendary vintage. Red Obsession is about people who can afford to buy expensive wine, and is set among some of the priciest hunks of land on Earth, so one of the main selling points of the documentary is the chance to spend time drinking in the scenery, along with the fabulous-looking people who inhabit it. After all, it isn’t like viewers can drink in the actual product of these vineyards—at least not with their eyes.
Red Obsession is only 78 minutes long, and about a third of the way through, it takes a turn. In telling the story of the 2010 and 2011 vintages, Roach and Ross also tell the story of what’s happened to the wine market in recent years: It’s become a major field for speculators with disposable income, which in this global economy means that the Chinese have gotten into wine in a big way. With that wave of investment came big problems, including a rise in prices and exports that has made it harder for the average European oenophile to buy a Bordeaux—and a rise in knock-offs that from the outside are hard to distinguish from the authentic tipple.
Given that the majority of Red Obsession is about the Chinese infatuation with wine—which has China on-course to become the most prolific producer of wines in the world, very soon—there’s way too much throat-clearing at the start of the movie. Or, alternately, there isn’t enough follow-through on some of the challenging questions raised by the first 20 minutes of Red Obsession, before it becomes all about China. Early on, the film considers the rich history of the Bordeaux, and the esoteric, uncontrollable factors that produce a great wine. There’s also some chatter about whether the leading wine critics have become little more than a promotional arm of the chateaux. (A scene of the powerhouse Robert Parker hosting a tasting in China is a case in point.) But then all of that gives way to a study in modern economics, set to a distractingly droning electronic soundtrack better suited to a 1980s action movie or one of those trippy old “Mind’s Eye” computer animation demonstrations.
Still, Red Obsession is informative, and entertainingly so, with its honeyed Russell Crowe narration and sweet tracking shots through sun-dappled vineyards. One of the Bordeaux vintners warns that after their recent experience with the global wine bubble, “We need to please people, and not to impress them.” But this documentary revels in the impressiveness, and why not? There’s more than a little decadent pleasure to be had in visiting estates that have been around since Napoleon, and hanging around customers of many different nationalities, all unaccustomed to hearing the word “no.”