Directors: Reuben Atlas & Jerry Rothwell
Cinematographer: Simon Fanthorpe
I was listening to Mike Colameco’s podcast “Food Talk” and he had a guest on, a master sommelier, who mentioned this documentary, stating that it was on Netflix, as a fascinating look at the world of wine. A few years ago I watched the documentary Somm and really enjoyed it, and I count Sideways as one of my favorite modern films. All that compounded by the fact that I have been a wine buyer in the past and enjoy a nice glass whenever possible, and I was sold on the idea of watching the film. The bf and I opened a bottle of Rioja and watched Sour Grapes the other night.
The film opens up focusing on insufferable people. What could easily get annoying very quickly is quite deliberate and brilliant, and the filmmakers show that they know exactly what they are doing and why. Several people are interviewed about their wine tastes and consumption. This is not a group of people who go to their local Rite Aid (mine has alcohol, which surprises everyone) or Trader Joe’s for $3-10 bottles, $15 if it’s a special occasion and we feel like we can afford it. No. These people spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on a single bottle and then chastise and judge those who drink like peasants and mere mortals. One dude, an especially heinous and insufferable douchebag in a suit, seems to be begging for someone to take a swing at him. Money is clearly no object for these people, including one Koch brother, and wine is not really about the pleasure of drinking it, but a status symbol. A giant fuck you to all of us who cannot afford what they can. Fortunately for us mere mortals, the film lets these assholes talk and build themselves up, because they are all about to fall – and the schadenfreude is oh so sweet for us in the end.
Enter Rudy Kurniawan. A young man with an incredible palate, he quickly manages to infiltrate himself in the wine buying world elite, which includes collectors and auctions – those held responsible for turning a lovely drink into something it never used to be, rendering it inaccessible to so many. Rudy starts off simple, but in no time begins playing with the big boys, eventually amassing what was considered to be one of the, if not the, biggest and most incredible fine and rare wine collections in the world. He also started selling his own wine acquisitions at action, wines that were bought far and wine by enviable patrons.
Problem was, Rudy’s wines were trash, fakes. We hear about money and precious stone counterfeiters, but rarely is wine included in the conversation. And yet there is a dark side to wine that includes people who misrepresent trash wine, presenting it as rare, collectible, and real. The fact that the wine passes through so many hands, including auction houses who take no responsibility for these oversights, is laughable and deplorable. But it’s hard to feel bad for anyone involved in this story. We are talking about the 1%, those who have so much money that they are willing to spend thousands of dollars on 300 year old wine that may have belonged to Thomas Jefferson. Undrinkable vinegar that only serves to prove how much money they have and we do not. If someone drinks and enjoys wine because they believe it’s worth more because it has a price tag of $14,000, then where is the crime exactly? They think they’re the shit for drinking this wine, they like the wine, and only get mad after the fact because they were duped by a smarter con-artist. Be still my heart while I cry uncontrollably for these poor gentle souls. But this derision is exactly what the filmmakers are aiming for. They want to show how ridiculous these people are, all of them. They have made a sport out of something that was never meant to be a divider of different social classes. Wine was a drink that nourished and quenched thirst due to the at times undrinkable nature of water. These are the people responsible for driving up the prices, who made wine into a commodity. A smart kid, who does get his due in the end, took advantage of them all, conned them, and proved to them that in the end, wine is wine.
Cheers to that!