A fascinating documentary, Sour Grapes from directors Jerry Rothwell and Reuben Atlas, tells a tale of high finance crime and unexpected forgery, the impact of which is still being felt in the wine industry.
Wine collecting (and indeed quaffing) has always been a rich person’s game, but before the financial crash of 2008 one wine trader single handedly changed the face of the wine market for ever. That man was Rudy Kurniawan, an independently wealthy Indonesian-Chinese wine expert who came seemingly from nowhere and joined the world’s richest and most exclusive wine drinking clubs before starting to sell his collection. Acting as an independent supplier to several auction houses Rudy went on to almost overnight, turn already expensive wine into a commodity almost divorced from its true value, with several extra zeros added onto the price.
But some had suspicions, and when Burgundy wine producer Laurent Ponsot discovered a vintage wine being auctioned from his own vineyard in a bottle marked with a year they didn’t actually produce it, the possibility of a massive wine counterfeiting scandal came to the fore.
Throughout the film we meet people involved in the industry and the investigation, leading to a jaw-dropping discovery of almost industrial audacity. There are some great characters and unusually sanguine super rich victims. As well as this the international doggedness of the investigators, including Laurent Ponsot wanting to protect his family name, is really very touching.
Sour Grapes is a tremendous documentary, providing context, characters, mystery and intrigue. It allows us into the world of the super rich, before pulling the rug from under them and even to a certain degree calling “Emperor’s New Clothes” on their florid justification for collecting the stupendously priced bottles. When two supposed experts on wine disagree wildly on the quality of a vintage a nagging feeling sets in amongst the audience that no one really knows anything, and it’s just the money that’s doing the talking.
Sour Grapes is out in cinemas now, with National screenings planned until November. For local details check here. It’s worth a look, especially if you’ve ever thought that bottle of plonk you bought in the supermarket was a bit pricey.