In the early 2000s Rudy Kurniawan was the sweetheart of the American fine wine scene, admired for his warm and charismatic personality and celebrated for his outstanding taste memory and palette. The mystery surrounding his background only added to his charm and as the value of his wine cellar increased few would have imagined what he was actually up to behind closed doors. Whilst socialising with high profile friends who shared his love for “the juice” he began selling the wines he had acquired for astronomical sums of money and soon attracted the attention of several suspicious connoisseurs. This feature film documents the line of enquiry led at the forefront by respected wine collector Bill Koch and wine producer, from the Bourgogne region, Laurent Ponsot, who ultimately exposed Kuriawan as a fraudster and producer of millions of dollars’ worth of counterfeit wine.
Directed by Jerry Rothwell and Reuben Atlas, Sour Grapes begins at the time when Kurniawan first started becoming known amongst elite wine groups and auction-goers in California. Footage of him throughout the documentary never spans much later than this time and his lack of presence in modern-day footage soon lends him an eerie air of mystery, a sentiment added to by the commentary of his friends who repeatedly mistakenly talk about him in the past. A portrait of him is created by those who knew him, and through their personal accounts the scandal that shocked and embarrassed those around him is slowly revealed.
As well as documenting the work and eventual downfall of Kurniawan, the film provides an immersive snapshot of a world that most of us will only ever dream about. Overwhelming figures and statistics detailing the excesses to which the fraudster worked highlight the obscene amounts of money being casually passed around amongst the wine-loving upper classes. Cleverly juxtaposed against the modest day-to-day activities of winemakers in the Bourgogne region of France, the excessive lifestyle of wine connoisseurs in America seems inflated and out of touch with reality. When the truth is exposed that Kurniawan has spent years duping his wealthy friends the flabbergasted reaction amongst them is almost laughable, along with the audacity with which the man operated, creating fraudulent bottles single-handedly in his multi-millionaire residence in Los Angeles.
Despite this, an undisputed love for wine expressed across the full spectrum of class and culture shines through this film. Presenting a genuine concern about the wine industry, it not only reveals a mysterious story that will be talked about for years to come but it also exposes the larger problem of wine counterfeiting that the industry faces worldwide. All in all, Sour Grapes is an enlightening documentary for wine connoisseurs as well as for those who are clueless on the subject, giving us an insight into the luxurious world of a fascinating conman whilst making us feel peculiarly glad that we’re not permanently a part of that world.
Sour Grapes is released in cinemas nationwide on 16th September 2016.
Watch the trailer for Sour Grapes here: