A documentary by Jerry Rothwell and Reuben Atlas. Rating unavailable
This breezy doc about a remarkable con inside the rare-wine market raises worthwhile questions about authenticity. There’s also a lowly satisfaction to be had from seeing obscenely wealthy folk like the avuncular, if vampiric, billionaire Bill Koch (brother to Charles and David) admit to the gouging he received at the hands of a first-class grifter.
It was Koch, seen here inside a wine cellar vast enough to alleviate Vancouver’s housing troubles, who got the ball rolling on a private investigation into Rudy Kurniawan. The youthful and charming Indonesian arrived on the scene in the late ’90s with a seemingly endless supply of money and a supernatural palate venerated by friends, foes, and victims alike.
L.A. Times journalist Corie Brown profiled Kurniawan in 2006, noting that he’d almost singlehandedly driven the auction value of rare wines into the stratosphere. As author Jay McInerney puts it, he was a “cult figure” to a community of arrogant fine-wine buyers prone to blow a hundred grand of “fuck-you money” on a single bottle. But Kurniawan also piqued the suspicion of a few dangerous skeptics when he started selling off his own legendary cellar in cahoots with a New York–based wine merchant—which subsequently rocketed from nowheresville to the number one auction house in the world.
Besides Koch, Burgundy winemaker Laurent Ponsot would make his own dramatic visit to New York after discovering a bottle of the family brand with a comically stupid typo on the label. And here is where Sour Grapes becomes really interesting. What the FBI would eventually discover about Kurniawan yielded infinitely more questions than answers, all of them impossibly weird, many of them suggesting that too many “experts” don’t know dick about shit.
Meanwhile, high rollers like filmmaker “Hollywood” Jef Levy still can’t bring themselves to totally disavow their mysterious former buddy. “The number of amazing experiences I had with him far outweigh any anger I could have,” says Levy, whose nose for real value has presumably been refined by the experience.