Movie Review: Sour Grapes
The Rudy Kurniawan fraud will go down in history as one of the greatest mysteries in the world of wine. How could a single guy with a mysterious, undisclosed background defraud dozens and dozens of the top wine critics, collectors, investment bankers, and CEOs in the United States. How did he charm them? How could he possibly have forged 10’s of thousands of labels using only a printer, some basic tools and his kitchen sink? How could he have blended wine to approximate some of the world’s greatest old vintages?
Sour Grapes explores Kurniawan’s story by interviewing those who knew him, worked with him, drank with him, investigated him and prosecuted him and breaking up those interviews with clips of various videos made during auctions and parties in which Kurniawan makes an appearance before the camera. These video excerpts serve to both elucidate and deepen the mystery.
The film explores Kurniawan’s sudden appearance in the New York wine auction world, his ascent to being the top supplier of bottles for auction in the world, and his descent to prosecution. Laurent Ponsot appears as an essential foil to Kurniawan’s charm (Rudy managed to defraud even the likes of the Koch brothers), the man who pulled the wool from everyone’s eyes, driven by a need to defend the integrity and history of Burgundy.
In many ways the film is an exploration of the human condition told through one of its most unusual past-times turned extreme obsession. Wines of the level of 1945 and 1962 DRC are in the world only of the 1% and the Kurniawan fraud says much about our obsession with status, wealth, and experience. It exposes just how deep bias runs and should serve as a salve to any wine lover’s obsession with tasting and identifying unicorn bottles.
There is an early scene in the film where Rajat Parr talks about the sommelier’s ‘badge of honour’ being the ability to identify a wine blind. The film never talks about this idea again, but the brief scene may be the key to the entire movie: participating in the Kurniawan auctions, dinners, and parties and being duped was fueled less by the love of wine and more by a lack of humility – accumulating badges of honour to say ‘I have been there’, ‘I tasted that wine’.
Sour Grapes is essential viewing for those in the wine industry. It says more about what drives luxury wine and the highest levels of the industry than any treatise or paper simply because it allows you to participate in a small way in the ground game that led to one of the great frauds of the 21st century, one that is in many ways ongoing. No one yet knows who Mr. Kurniawan really is and lawsuits against potential co-conspirators, including the auction houses themselves, are ongoing. One thing we do know is that Kurniawan has changed wine forever.