Sour Grapes

Sour Grapes screened as part of Sheffield Doc/Fest 2016.

Sour Grapes is a tragi-comedy about the love of wine and a young man who decided to fool the world’s richest collectors. But its subtext examines the frankly bizarre surplus of monies the very richest in society has to throw around.

During the late '90s dot-com explosion there emerged a new obsession for the super-rich, a way to tap into history, show off, and get drunk: fine wine collecting. Once a rarified and fusty niche, it became lucrative as the money markets boomed and more and more people went looking for exclusive and rare items to spend their bonuses on.

In the early noughties one Rudy Kurniawan entered the scene. A young Indonesian scion with an exquisite palette and a generous spirit, he shook up the wine world with his big-money purchases at auction and easygoing charm. Rudy also formed an influential friendship with auctioneer John Kapon of New York house Acker Merrall & Condi.

Kapon was the first to make wine auctions celebrations of excess, with lots of drinking, shouting, and copy in the catalogue about call girls and hot sex, perfectly in tune with his market of rich, male, bravado-driven buyers who wanted to feel like the big man in the room.

By the time Rudy had made himself the talk of the wine world, spending up to a million a month on wines, his own purchasing activity had pushed prices way up. That’s when he decided to sell choice selections from his own cellar under Kapon’s hammer. But all was not as it seemed.

Reports of fake Domaine Ponsot had spread to the charmingly sanguine winemaker Laurent Ponsot, whose family company has been producing this fine Burgundy since the nineteenth century. Flicking through auction catalogues, he could often tell from mistakes on the bottles’ labels that they were fakes. Eager that his family name should not be blackened, he set out to find out the culprit.

Two Hollywood players, producer Arthur Sarkissian and director Jef Levy, who made friends with Rudy and bought a lot of expensive wines from his collection, even now simply cannot believe that the charming, generous young man they were proud to call a friend was a fraudster. It’s a testament to Rudy’s charm, his gift as a taster, and perhaps his true love of wine. But their recollections also illuminate what’s missing from the heart of the film: Rudy. So is auctioneer Kapon, who seems to gratefully fade into the background.

Despite this, Jerry Rothwell and Reuben Atlas’s film is a very entertaining wine thriller (perhaps the first in the genre!). It wears its subject matter lightly but ensures that what remains in your mind is less one man’s ingenious fraud than a subtle interrogation of the way the richest in our society spend their cash and run the markets.

First published by Candid Magazine here.