One of the unheralded cinematic bright spots of 2016 is the wonderful wealth of stellar documentaries that have been flowing into theatres and onto streaming services. Though they may lack the fanfare that often comes with the release of most blockbusters, this year’s crop of non-fiction tales have featured storytelling that is far more potent and entertaining than many of their big budget counterparts. A perfect example of this is Jerry Rothwell and Reuben Atlas’s delicious Sour Grapes.
Swirling with the rich colour of intrigue and displaying the strong legs of investigative journalism, Sour Grapes is a film that one savors. The focus of Rothwell and Atlas’ sharp, and often amusing, lens is the lucrative wine industry. Specifically how a young wine connoisseur, Rudy Kurniawan, whose palette was unmatched by most accounts, swindled the industry for millions in an elaborate fraud case. Once considered the beverage of choice for those who appreciated the finer decadences that life offers, wine became an increasingly popular stock market entity for those looking for secure investments after the financial crisis of 2008. Collectors from all over, the majority of which are male, white and affluent, not only stock piled their personal wine racks with rare vintages, but also realized that they could turn a tidy profit by placing these rare bottles up for auction.
Seeing a way to immerse himself amongst the wine enthusiast elite, Kurniawan used his knowledge of wine, and selling rare bottles from his vast collection, he quickly ascended up the connoisseur ranks. It is only when a wealthy collector uncovers of a fraudulent bottle in his collection, which he purchased from another seller at an auction house, that the rash of tainted bottles circulating in the market begins to be taken more seriously. Things get particularly complicated for Kurniawan himself when Laurent Ponsot, a prominent wine producer in Burgundy, France begins to investigate the origins of a fake bottle that was sold from Kurniawan’s private collection.
All of this opens the door to a thrilling and intriguing tale of deceit as the truth about Rudy Kurniawan starts to flow faster than cheap merlot being poured down the drain. The beautiful thing about Sour Grapes is not its detailed unraveling of Kurniawan’s scam, which he orchestrated using fake labels, recycled bottles and by creating personal relationships with auction houses, but rather its astute commentary on our need for acceptance. What made Kurniawan’s actions so riveting is the fact that the men he duped were, like the con artist himself, all in love with the idea of being part of an elite group.
It is why some, who claim to be wine experts, have had a difficult time believing that Kurniawan is a criminal. In one of the more amusing and telling moments, Rothwell and Atlas follow one such connoisseur as he tries to prove that Kurniawan’s wine was in fact legit. The sequence shows how our desperation to believe in something can even blind our own taste buds.
Informative, the film even takes a moment to instruct us on how to properly taste wine, and endlessly fascinating. Sour Grapes is a film that you should immediately uncork and savor.