Sour Grapes

Review by Trevor Johnston

Directed by

Jerry Rothwell Reuben Atlas

Starring

N/A

Anticipation.

Wine-collecting millionaires get conned – and this is a problem?

Enjoyment.

Actually, the unmasking of a master forger makes a pretty good mystery story.

In Retrospect.

More intriguing than expected, and you’ll be gasping for a glass of red afterwards.

Wealthy wine connoisseurs get more than they bargained for in this strangely compelling doc.

Above a certain price point, they say, you’re not paying for the wine, you’re paying for the label. When that tag reaches thousands per bottle however, you can argue that rare wines offer a magical connection with terroir and history, but it’s still hard to dispel the suspicion it’s all an exercise in vinous bling for the super-rich – many of whom are unaware they’re shelling out big bucks for elaborate fakes.

More fool them, you might think, but this investigative doc probes a little deeper and delivers up a fascinating real-life central character with the two-faced bonhomie and cunning of Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley. When dotcom-boom liquidity sloshed over the wine auction scene, no one splashed more cash than Rudy Kurniawan, who was tight-lipped about his background, but whose knowledge, generosity and educated palate ingratiated him with the coterie of vintage-collecting high-rollers. It looked like he was stoking up the market to sell on at even higher prices – but his plan was even more fiendish than that…

Indeed, from a not-that-promising set-up, the movie becomes an engrossing procedural, triggered when a top Burgundy winemaker spots that Kurniawan is selling off his wines from vintages when they weren’t actually produced. Soon he’s on the case, as the FBI start circling, and the truth of Kurniawan’s methods and identity are uncovered – one investigator suggesting his elaborate bluff makes him “a Gen X Great Gatsby”. Offering a slickly-shot peek into seriously deluxe lifestyles, the filmmakers extract some wry humour from the unfolding chaos, with sundry Hollywood types valiantly refusing to believe they’ve been duped.

In the end, the finger is justifiably pointed at unscrupulous auctioneers, and while Kurniawan ultimately remains an enigmatic figure, his story reminds us that only the master forgers truly understand the greatness of any art form.

Published 16 Sep 2016

Anticipation.

Wine-collecting millionaires get conned – and this is a problem?

Enjoyment.

Actually, the unmasking of a master forger makes a pretty good mystery story.

In Retrospect.

More intriguing than expected, and you’ll be gasping for a glass of red afterwards.

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