Enjoyable ‘Sour Grapes,’ the Movie of Wine Intrigue and Fraud

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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

Have you ever wanted to invest in one of those four (or five) figure bottles of elusive, scarce, French wines?

Have you ever been envious of those who could afford them?

A new Netflix documentary delves into this inner world of class and privilege – and its inevitable pitfalls.

Remember the heady days of the early 2000s, when excess was a lifestyle, not a luxury for many high-rollers on Wall Street? When Alan Greenspan warned us all of irrational exuberance? The movie “Sour Grapes” epitomizes one aspect of this lifestyle.

In the middle of the craze for acquiring, consuming and collecting exotic wines was Rudy Kurniawan, an unknown, self-proclaimed wine connoisseur, who endeared himself to wealthy collectors with lavish and expensive meals and rare wines and then proceeded to perpetrate an historic fraud.

The movie portrays the cast of characters with excellent footage from film files and interviews. It lends an air of credibility to Kurniawan’s fraud, but also an air of incredulity as we watch gullible aficionados drinking the grape Kool-Aid of propaganda and lies spewing from Kurniawan’s lips.

A short list of the primary characters:

The self-appointed wealthy elite: The Masters of the Universe, who immersed themselves in Kurniawan’s seeming hospitality at restaurants and private parties, reciprocated by purchasing his counterfeit wines at auction. Kurniawan is seen entertaining his new friends, thoroughly enjoying the praises with which they shower him. Of course, he must maintain the ruse, but his exuberant demeanor and smiles are palpable in the footage. If he senses the end, it is clear to the viewer he is going to enjoy every moment before his crash.

The wronged: Leading the pack of duped collectors was billionaire, and major wine collector, Bill Koch. He blindly relied on auction houses to certify the provenance of the wines being offered at auction. In the movie, we learn it was Koch who decided to single-handedly right the wrong of counterfeit wine sales. He hired private investigators and cooperated with law enforcement bureaus to recover his worthless investments resting comfortably in his vast cellar. We get a glimpse of Koch’s vast and elaborate cellar. This exclusive footage alone is worth the price of the movie ticket.

The audacious con artist: Kurniawan perpetuated his nefarious scheme for 10 years, from 2002 to 2012. At times, the film casts a light-hearted depiction of his misadventures. There is one remarkable scene, filmed during a live auction in which he is participating, where an expensive bottle has been sold for an astronomical sum. He turns to the person next to him, exclaiming, “Dude, I just opened that bottle on Thursday, can I refill it and put the cork back?”

And the rest is history. FBI agents arrested Kurniawan in March 2012.

The behind-the-scenes accomplices? The movie is unable to uncover definitively the source of Kurniawan’s initial wealth. It seems clear to me that others supported his lavish lifestyle. The movie focuses on two of his uncles, living in Indonesia, who defrauded local banks of $780 million, a significant portion of which was never recovered. The implication is that they may have helped finance his counterfeiting career.

Another anomaly is the vast quantity of counterfeit wine funneled into the auction markets. According to Laurant Ponsot, an esteemed wine producer from the French Burgundy region who was instrumental in uncovering Kurniawan’s fraud, it would have taken two years of 24-hour days to create the wines he counterfeited. Improbable? Neither the movie’s directors, nor the courts, pursued this aspect of the fraud.

How did Kurniawan’s wine misadventures end? He was tried, convicted and is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence, having perpetrated what is believed to be the largest wine fraud in United States history.

I thoroughly enjoyed “Sour Grapes.” I’m now planning a “Rudy” party to invite friends to watch it. And of course, I’ll be going into my wine cellar for a vintage bottle of wine to share. I certainly won’t rely on one of my wine-obsessed friends for advice on its authenticity.

Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 20 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.


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