In the waning days of the 20th century, the market for high priced, often extremely rare wines skyrocketed. Outside of a few auctioneers who aggressively moved product and big time players and money-makers looking to grab and taste alcoholic history, few people were credited with the market reaching new heights as Rudy Kurniawan. An unassuming, nerdy looking fellow, Rudy was the toast of the town among the New York and Los Angeles elite. By all accounts a lovable, gregarious, and generous man with a gifted palate and seemingly bottomless resources, Rudy hobnobbed with investment bankers, movie producers, and wine snobs with equal aplomb. When his wine collections would go up for sale at auction, Rudy could fetch tens of millions in a single go. Only one problem: Rudy’s wine was counterfeit and no one knows how he was able to pull off the con as long as he did.
An elaborate oral history of a bizarre, yet believable criminal endeavour, Sour Grapes provides necessary cultural and economic context for why a crime of privilege like the one committed by Kurniawan should matter to everyone, not just one-percenters. Directors Jerry Rothwell (How to Change the World) and Reuben Atlas (Brothers Hypnotic) team up to weave a well researched and engaging look at an elaborate, sometimes deeply hilarious con. In the process, however, they also show how greed can breed complacency among those seeking to peripherally profit from another person’s criminal endeavours.
Those with a great palate and eye for detail should be able to spot a fake bottle of wine, and Kurniawan’s were often easily debunked as frauds, but it was a small handful of buyers, producers, and investigators who actually called bullshit on the man whose riches seemed to come out of nowhere. It’s a uniquely human look at one of the most bizarre grifts on record.