Sour Grapes (2016) Poster


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Brilliant Story
gavin69425 December 2016
Documentary about the fine and rare wine auction market centering around a counterfeiter who befriended the rich and powerful and sold millions of dollars of fraudulent wine through the top auction houses.

I don't drink wine often, don't particularly care for it, and know next to nothing about collecting it or its value. Despite that, this documentary was fascinating -- the ability to con the best collectors, and the FBI's attempts to track down the con man. It is a great story of crime, as well as a nice tale of pulling one over on rich snobs who might need a good pranking from time to time.

Good documentaries are hard to find, but this is one of them. It covers everything it needs to and never lingers for too long. If it hasn't already happened, someone needs to turn this into a feature film.
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At the end of every (not-so-hard) day, people find some reason to believe
paul2001sw-113 January 2017
The fine wine market is a very peculiar one. Firstly, fine wine is arguably an acquired taste: many people can't tell that good wine is good. You could say that people learn, but you could also say that an elite group have unilaterally determined what fine wine actually is through the simple expedient of being prepared to spend large sums of money on it. Secondly, there's a lot of ritual involved in wine drinking, and those who can wine connoisseurs would actually be very unhappy if fine wine could be bought cheaply, even if it allowed them to drink it more often: a wine bottle is definitely a fetish object, not just the container for some fermented grape juice. And finally, the supply of old wines is finite. If enough rich people want to own (and drink) them as status objects, there's almost no limit to how high the price for a bottle could go. Rudy Kurniawan appeared in the US wine collectors' market in the early 21st century. Apparently a rich kid with a fantastic palate (i.e. he could spot the same differences in taste of the most renowned experts), he soon developed a reputation as a devoted collector of the rarest wines. He was generous in sharing these with his friends (mostly fellow collectors), but he actually bought so much wine that they didn't benefit from his presence overall – the market itself moved under his influence. And when he started to sell from his cellar, you might have wondered if he wasn't just a naive enthusiast overpaying for his hobby, but actually someone smart (and brave) enough to hope to generate (through buying) an enthusiasm for rare wines that could outlast his subsequent selling, the classic technique employed by sellers of penny stocks and many other types of huckster (though it's not necessarily illegal to try and make a market in this way).

What is illegal, of course, is putting new wine in old bottles; and in the event, it transpired that this was what "Rudy" (in fact, not his real name) had done. With the aid of his genuinely good sense of taste, and with the backing of relatives belonging to Indonesian organised crime, Rudy was blending wines to match the taste of the most famous (and expensive) vintages. Because he bought so much real wine, he was able to flood the market with fake. Nonetheless, the story of his ten-year goal sentence leaves a slightly sour taste in the mouth: it seems excessive for the harm caused, the crime being to spoil a game played by rich people for little ultimate effect. One can also note that no-one other than the foreigner has been prosecuted for the fraud: its hard to believe there were others who did not suspect and/or collaborate, but it's possible to conclude that the American establishment has ultimately protected its own. Oddly, some of those defrauded are inclined to cut Rudy more slack than perhaps he deserves. In any case, I strongly recommend this intriguing documentary, a perfectly paced tale whose minor subject is wine: it's major subject is what, and why, we choose to believe.
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tributarystu6 November 2016
I don't even drink wine, so my understanding of the collector's impulse is bound to be limited. Nonetheless, the themes flowing through Sour Grapes, smoothly prepped in the movie equivalent of a decanter, provide a certain sparkle on the tongue, a deeply flavoured experience with a tinge of Schadenfreude. The latter is essential, as it frames the human impulse behind what is ultimately no more than an astute con.

There's a palpable story at the roots of this documentary: Rudy Kurniawan, a skinny, wise-beyond-his-years kind of fellow, appears on the international wine auctioning scene in the early/mid 2000s and becomes a big player at an impressive pace. If there's one thing that's universally known about the early/mid 2000s, it's that they preceded the latter 2000s - hah, just kidding! But not really, for the decade started with the fake excess of the dot-com bubble and then flourished in the fake excess of the housing market bubble. Per chance (or not), Kurniawan's trajectory does well to parallel these cautionary tales, only that its conclusion is brisk and there were few tears shed about the victims. As one usually does, when it comes to the rich losing out in their Bateman-esque games of self-affirmation and chest thumping.

The fascinating bit lies in the possibility of a fraud existing in a world so tightly strung by expert knowledge. A wine connoisseur has a special kind of fame attached to his or her ability to discern the exceptional from the good. It's something acquired through years of sophisticated training and a lot of expensive wines. Additionally, as important sums of money are thrown around, it is also the kind of area ripe for pretense. Similarly to, perhaps, the market for art collectors, there will always be people who understand art, historically and aesthetically, and those who collect it for the sheer exercise, be it financial or egotistical. The same applies to wines.

It's in this contrast that Sour Grapes comes alive. The story is told through a limited collection of archival footage of Kurniawan and present day interviews with people in the business: collectors, sommeliers, wine producers. It paints this canvas of wine as an ultimately simple and beautiful experience, pandering somewhat to Domain Ponsot's lavishly poetic narrative. Lavish to the point of being hypocritical, even. And it also frames Kurniawan as this endearing character, much liked by those who bought his wines. There's surprisingly little sourness to the movie, especially for so much money being involved. Yet, that also plays into this idea of the exclusive wine club, where people are so enlightened (and rich), that they can look beyond trifling deceptions worth millions.

So perhaps that's part of what I didn't quite like, the neatness of it all, the lack of further prodding. You also get a sense there's a template for these meta-documentaries, where a deeply ironic situation is framed with lyrical prowess, only to sustain some unnecessary ambiguity about its central character(s). Kurniawan is guilty and a bunch of people were defrauded, even if he might have had to bear the brunt of it.

But there's also a certain beauty to being caught in such a great deception, because the contrast is so stark. The story sells itself, so the point of the movie was to somehow capture it with the limited footage it had of its lead. Atlas and Rothwell came good and they also managed to leave any sardonic undertones as just that, undertones. Ultimately, even for someone with no taste for wine, I was excited by the end, having sat through this very particular tasting menu of intricate lies. The thought that nothing is quite black and white lingers in the knowledge that thousands of Kurniawan wine bottles are still in wine cellars around the world.

Some real, some fake - and the afterthought that one might not really want to know the truth.
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As a wine-lover I enjoyed this for two good reasons.
TxMike4 December 2016
Warning: Spoilers
I had seen this same story a couple of years before, I just don't remember where or what the name of the program is.

Rudy Kurniawan, of Asian extraction, was living life large and getting into wines, and he established a very lucrative business selling rare and expensive wines to wealthy connoisseurs and collectors. The problem was, all those wines were fake. Rudy blended cheap wines to approximate the color and character of those rare wines, he made fake labels, properly "aged", and became wealthy with his ruse.

He went to trial, with a not-guilty plea, but the evidence was too overwhelming, his "lab", his purchases of special papers for labels, his purchases of used wine bottles, his blending formulas, plus the forensic evidence. Surprising even the prosecutors he was sentenced to 10 years in prison where he currently is, in the California desert.

The circumstantial evidence is he had accomplices, there just was no way he could have faked the amount he did without help, it was a time- consuming operation. But no one else has been accused, although it appears some of his family members have also stolen untold millions and fled to foreign countries.

Good documentary. I am glad for two reasons, as a wine-lover. It is good to see at least some of the counterfeiters are being caught. But most of all, even though I am a red wine lover, I love to find the excellent wines at excellent prices. Give me a good $12 Cabernet or Zinfandel, those will never be counterfeited because it would make no sense to do so!
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Proof that even rich people can be quite stupid!
planktonrules21 December 2016
"Sour Grapes" is an interesting documentary because it has a lot to say about human nature...particularly about how stupid folks can be...even rich folks!

The film begins with the insane craze of the 90s and into the 21st century that sent the prices of the premier wines to the moon. In some cases, wines had gone up ten times...all because folks suddenly thought buying Bordeaux wines was the best...and a way to show off their wealth. Into this atmosphere came Rudy Kurniawan...a wine expert that seemed to have an almost inexhaustible supply of wine to sell to the great auction houses. Not surprisingly, eventually folks started to question his high lifestyle and a French winemaker was justifiably angry when he realized counterfeit wines were being sold with his winery's name on it.

Most viewers probably DON'T care too much about spoiled rich folks getting ripped off. However, I enjoyed the film because it was an interesting look at human nature--the greed, the willing stupidity and the insistence by a couple idiots that Rudy STILL is a pretty cool guy!!! It's also interesting, but not the least bit surprising, that Rudy's lawyer made 1001 excuses and minimizations for his client's actions...after all, he IS a defense lawyer. Overall, there's a lot of interesting things here about people...and the realization that wealth and sophistication don't necessarily have much correlation with common sense!
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A great documentary
clairelouise55 April 2020
This documentary was a fascinating insight into the workings a conman. It was like dipping a toe into the world of extreme wealth and extravagance of the millionaire and billionaire wine collectors. My eyes are still watering over some of those sums of money paid for a single bottle of wine.
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omarnekan22 January 2017
as a kid who grew in France and spent my summer working in vignobles in burgundy. This movie made me sick. A bunch of foreign billionnares wannabes who treat wine like stocks and commodities, pretentious vocabulary and disgusting arrogance. money really does ruin everything. people respect the Chinese guy on the video because with his 1 million a month allowance he buy them expensive bottles period. I can't stop thinking about the guy who trained me in Burgundy and the way he talked about wine, the earth, nature, the sky.... like none of the guys will never experience. he hurt me seeing my patrimoine being ripped off. I'm tired to see our vignobles being bought by Chinese oligarches who transplant their materialism in everything they touch,
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Strange Story in the Wine Auctions Biz: You'll Need a Swig to Understand This One!
classicalsteve29 September 2020
These days, just about everything can be auctioned: fine art, ancient and medieval artifacts, antiquarian books, comic books, toys, and, interestingly enough, fine bottles of wine, unopened and unused of course. There are unused and uncorked bottles of wine which date back to the early 20th, 19th, and even to the 18th century (the 1700's) and even earlier which can be traded at auction. Even an unopened bottle of wine produced in circa 1995 might fetch $10,000 to $15,000 if it came from a fine vintage. However, unlike just about everything else, with the possible exception of toys in their original packaging, you can't enjoy the wine unless it's consumed. Of course, once consumed it's gone. A 73-year-old bottle of French Burgundy was auctioned not long ago for almost $600,000. Did anyone actually drink it?

I can understand faking fine art, and there have even been a few examples of faking antiquarian books. (An Italian bibliophile once faked a Galileo book.) But faking fine wine? The documentary eventually exposes the chicanery of Rudy Kurniawan, an Asian con artist and faker. What's so amazing about Kurniawan is that he was not only the prototypical con artist but he had reportedly one of the best "palates" in the wine connoisseur world. "Palate" is insider lingo for having the ability to differentiate vintages. He was basically the wine connoisseur equivalent of Clark Rockefeller, the German provincial Christian Gerhartsreiter who fooled everyone around him in New York that he was a multi-millionaire Rockefeller for over 10 years.

Like Gerhartsreiter, everyone liked Rudy Kurniawan. Everyone in the fine wine community wanted to be his friend, which seems to be a prerequisite to being a successful con artist. Much of the documentary shows lengthy footage of the Asian surrounded by friends and admirers who, of course, are drinking themselves into stupors via fine wines. Rudy shows up into the wine world seemingly out of nowhere and starts bidding up the prices of fine wines at auctions. At first they wonder, who is this "stranger who has come to our town", or more to the point, our community of wine connoisseurs? They were a bunch of happy and exclusive wine enthusiasts, mostly older white men, who had been invaded by a younger Asian.

Rudy has accomplished the first phase of the con, the "hook", the bidding on and winning expensive wines. If you remember from the film "The Sting", a con has several phases. Eventually, Rudy befriends everyone he meets, and begins the "tale". The tale is that he's from a successful business family in Indonesia and money is no object. Is his family in banking or maybe they import European beers into Asia. He dresses well, drives expensive cars, and lives a lavish lifestyle. He does everything to persuade the wine connoisseur circle of his legitimacy, even providing an address for one of his family's businesses in Indonesia. (When an investigator finally goes there, they find some run-down cheap shops at the location, but no high affluent businesses. They do find out that one of his uncles was involved in one of the biggest banking thefts in Asian history!)

Then Rudy begins to consign wines to the auction block. He sells $44 million worth of wine through an auction house, Acker Merrall & Condit. He even convinces some of the prestigious auction houses, such as Christies and Sotheby's to allow him to offer his wines through auction sale. It seems logical. He was buying them earlier, and now he wants to sell some of them. This is basically "the sting".

And it almost worked, until someone figured out there was a slight problem. Or maybe a titanic one. Some of the wines being offered for auction were apparently manufactured and bottled from a particular French winery in the 1940's, 50's and 60's, a winery still in current operation. The owner/proprietor, the latest in a long line of family owners, examines the auction catalogue and notices something amiss. Many of "their" vintages didn't actually exist at that time! Several of the vintages being offered for auction supposedly from before 1970 were not created by the winery until after 1980, even though according to the label they did! The proprietor of the French winery knows they didn't create and bottle these wines, even though the bottles have their labels stuck to the bodies. If they didn't create these bottles of wine and attach the labels, who did? The wine manufacturer attends the auction and basically forces the auction house to stop selling the vintages.

Really interesting documentary and a fascinating look at the whole wine collecting community. Several collectors as well as wine professionals are profiled. As the events unfold, not surprising, it's learned that Rudy Kurniawan is not his real name. He named himself after a Japanese sports professional. But the story becomes even more interesting when authorities enter his house and find a kind of "wine manufacturing" operation!
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Worth watching
shanayneigh23 September 2020
I don't drink wine, but I found this documentary very interesting. It's amazing how these self appointed experts were (like the Hollywood director who rather pathetically refuses to take off his shades) - and still are - fooled by what this guy did. They're probably living in denial, embarrassed. And I can't say I'm upset with Koch losing money. I'm only upset he didn't lose more of it.
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lanaliliya6 September 2020
Very interesting documentary, even for a person like me who isn't a wine drinker or wine collector.
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well done documentary
Snakeskinzjr28 February 2022
I was not familiar with the case of wine conman Rudy Kurniawan before this film. This guy was obviosity believable to the point some of the people he sold fake wine too, were still defending him even after his conviction. It really does show that it is much easier to fool somebody than to convince them they have been fooled, AKA the last two years come to mind. Amazing how long this guy was able to operate his scam and make millions all the while hanging out with and being adored by the very people he took advantage of. I thought this doc. Was interesting and well made , recommend.
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Reassuring to know someone is screwing these people over
lynnefoghart21 May 2019
Nothing quite so satisfying to know that a regular guy gets to do a little bit of justice for the rest of the world and screw over these filthy rich folks whose hubris and sense of superiority is very clearly betrayed by the fact that they got so easily fooled by a guy who appears to have not done that much research and made many many mistakes along the way. The balance of the universe while not fully restored at least has given a small victory to us little guys getting screwed over by these a*holes. Take their money and run, Rudy!
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For such a fascinating topic and a rousing exposition of the rich's hubris, the documentary
mehobulls9 October 2020
This film shows how even the very wealthy can be charmed by a con artist who leaves a nasty taste in the mouth of wine collectors
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Very interesting!
connolley32529 October 2020
Warning: Spoilers
I had no idea that wine collecting was like this. It blew my mind the lengths to which Rudy went to make counterfeit wine. It was too bad they had to destroy all the counterfeit wine. I'm sure it was quite decent. 😢🍷
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Almost a victimless crime.
kkachat20 January 2022
It's hard to feel sorry for these people. Every wine tastes like floor cleaner. Wine is one of the worst tasting alcohols there is. They talk about having a great palette but I imagine if you love wine so much that your tastebuds must barely work at all. And then you have people raving about how great it tastes and paying insane prices for pretty much the same crap that is chemically identical to what you get for thirty bucks a bottle at the liquor store. I've never heard anybody actually say that excessive age actually makes the wine taste better. It would be kind of like saying "tobacco is just better when you roll it up and smoke it in a Monét painting." And then just imagine what good all that money could do for other people in the world, in terms of improving their lives. It seems like it would be fairly easy crime to commit and when you think about how many poor people are sitting around with nothing to do when they could be filling up old bottles with liquor and aging paper and making homemade glue. Why not if you can get away with it?
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