‘Tis the Season to Drink & be Merry. . . until you realize that priceless bottle of Burgundy was mixed up in somebody’s kitchen sink.
Sour Grapes is the curious and comical true-crime account of arguably the biggest counterfeit case to hit the rarefied world of fine wine collecting, ever. At the center of the piece is a geeky, affable poseur named Rudy Kurniawan, an Indonesian trust-fund baby with an undeniably genius palate and a limitless budget who alone, cornered the market on the world’s best wines – buying with abandon and then reselling at inflated prices – to the awakening worry of the industry itself. Just to give you an idea of the kind of cash we’re talking about in this game, in 2006 alone, the sales of wines from Rudy Kurniawan’s own cellar amounted to $35 million dollars.
To understand the terroir (if you will) in which this story took place, one need only consider that for generations the appreciation and collecting of expensive wines was the domain of an older, moneyed, mostly male-dominated group who probably collected other things as well, such as art, cars, houses and women. After the dot.com explosion which created new overnight millionaires, enter a new breed of wine connoisseurs: young, brash, and desperate to impress. This heady world was the perfect landscape in which another young, nerdy guy could literally wine and dine his way into their trust and their pockets.
From tons of actual video (originally shot for a publicity piece on Kurniawan) to personal commentary from Rudy’s friends/clients, the FBI, attorneys on both sides, and even Bill Koch (yes, one of the Koch brothers), an unlikely whistle-blower emerges from France to pretty much steal the movie: Burgundy’s Laurent Ponsot. A 3rd generation producer of one of the most respected Burgundys in the region (Domaine Ponsot), he personally joins the criminal investigation after accidentally discovering that several of his wines coming up for auction in NYC are indeed fakes. As he puts it, his mission is to cleanse the “dirt on the integrity of Burgundy”. What follows is a delightful and full-bodied criminal procedural with top notes of justice and a lingering aftertaste of mold on the vine.
The idea for Sour Grapes started with British documentary executive, Nick Ware and found its way to co-directors Jerry Rothwell and Reuben Atlas, who decided to create the story’s trajectory around Laurent Ponsot, whose renowned brand was a prominent victim of Kurniawan’s counterfeiting scheme. The film also includes some insightful commentary by well-known novelist and passionate wine enthusiast, Jay McInerney who describes “the collaboration between the Forger and the Dupe” which of course extends to all forms of counterfeit, whether it be priceless paintings, historical documents, shipwrecked treasures or in this case, rare vintages of wine. As he so aptly puts it, “People kind of want to be fooled.”
Some have called Rudy Kurniawan the ‘Gen X Great Gatsby’, but I find that analogy kind to say the least. Whereas Jay Gatsby mounted his campaign of dazzling excess to win the heart of the woman he loved, Rudy Kurniawan’s was all about himself and of course, all about the money.
As Kurniawan’s entire family and background is methodically exposed for the criminal enterprise it is, Federal Prosecutor, Jason Hernandez comments on Rudy’s attorneys’ claims that what he was doing in his CA mansion kitchen was a form of cosmetic bottle treatment. “If you believe that Rudy Kurniawan was just trying to recondition the bottles and give them a nicer appearance, then you probably believe that in a few weeks a man with a white beard is going to come down your chimney and leave a case of 1945 Romanée Conti under your tree.”
Please, Santa, say it’s so!
Sour Grapes is presently streaming on Netflix.
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YouTube Trailer Courtesy of: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPUYuwSRwB8