Sour Grapes recently went live on Netflix. Has Netflix recommended it to you yet? If not, you’re clearly not watching the right shows!
After speaking with one of the directors and seeing the trailer, I was ready to fire up the documentary when I saw it was available.
Sour Grapes tells the story of Rudy Kurniawan, the convicted (spoiler alert!) wine counterfeiter. We in the wine world know the story of how he came from nowhere in the early 2000s, ingratiated himself with some of the biggest collectors in the land, poured tens of millions of dollars into fine wine at auction, and then reversed and sold tens of millions of dollars of wine wine, including many fakes passed off as the world’s top wines.
But what is particularly compelling here is a trove of video of Kurniawan in action. Not only does he actually speak as opposed to the many court drawings we have seen of him, they actually have him utter the priceless line–in jest!–“I refill and put the cork back”! This old footage alone is reason for wine enthusiasts to see it. It’s fun to see some cameos for people in the wine world. (Though I still would like to see a movie version of this story told as fiction, with actors.)
It works as a movie too. I had a non-wine friend check out the film and he gave it a thumbs up. The film crew decamps to Burgundy to get some beautiful B roll footage; Laurent Ponsot comes off great in his role as inspecteur.
So put it in your queue, make some popcorn cooked with extra virgin coconut oil, and pop some champagne–just make sure it’s not a fake.
Sour Grapes, a new documentary about wine fraud, is being released on Netflix next month.
The movie centers on the case of convicted wine counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan. In fact, the film’s two directors, Jerry Rothwell and Reuben Atlas, met at Kurniawan’s trial in Manhattan where they had ventured separately, each with an eye to making a documentary. In a phone interview, Rothwell said they quickly decided to join forces after speaking with witnesses who had testified in the trial.
One of those was Laurent Ponsot who welcomed them and the camera crew to his Burgundy domaine. Rothwell says that the film “a bit like a detective story.” Ponsot is positioned in the film as one of the detectives, trying to solve the mystery of fake bottles and the perona of Rudy Kurniawan. Others include the investigative team of Bill Koch as well as Maureen Downey and Don Cornwell.
One of the things about the film that is apparent from the trailer (above in case you get this via email and the youtube clip doesn’t render) is that they have real clips of Kurniawan walking and talking as opposed to those courtroom drawings that made him look like an alien life form (but courtroom sketches don’t do anybody favors, just ask Tom Brady). At one point he even jokes “I refill and put the cork back”! Rothwell says much of this footage came from another documentary about wine collectors shot in 2002 but that didn’t see the light of day.
Rothwell says that the Netflix came on board early, as well as ARTE, the Franco-German TV network. He says that he started the project just after Kurniawan was arrested but work and filming in earnest lasted about a year, which is fast. Working with Netflix streamlined it too and made for fewer headaches.
The Kurniawan story seems a perfect fit for TV or movies. The rights to a dramatic version of the story were sold in 2012.
Gérard Depardieu (The Belgian resident and Russian citizen) will star in a new buddy film set on the wine route in…Beaujolais.
The film, entitled Sait-Amour after the Beaujolais appellation, is evocative in theme to Sideways, the 2005 Oscar winner. In Saint-Amour, Depardieu plays a farmer who seeks a rapprochement with his son by taking a tour along a wine route–a real one, not just doing the circuit of wine stands at the agricultural fairs. Throw in a young driver named Mike and a love interest…et voila.
It will be interesting to see if the film, released in March of this year in France, will have as big an impact on the Beaujolais region and wines as Sideways did for Santa Barbara and Pinot. I’m guessing no. First, it’s a French release and the French already know the charms of Beaujolais. It could go some distance raising the reputation of the region, which for many people, remains tethered to the quick-to-market Beaujolais Nouveau. Second, for it to have much of an impact here, it would have to be remade in English, which would probably mean shifting the location to the US. Oh, but wait–we already had that with Sideways. So, yeah, I don’t see this as providing much of a fillip to Beaujolais in the US.
Can’t hurt though! And I, for one, look forward to streaming it. Trailer follows below. Read more…
Wine may well be splashing on the silver screen with Matthew McConaughey in a starring role. Deadline reports that the star of Dallas Buyers Club and True Detective will headline the cinematic adaptation of the Billionaire’s Vinegar.
I’m glad the project is moving ahead. It’s based on the terrific book of the same name by Benjamin Wallace. Will Smith had reportedly picked up the rights to the project back in 2008; when I called Escape Artists Entertainment in 2012 for an update, I was told that there’s “No director. No talent. No new news.” Clearly the project has gained newfound momentum. Read more…
The self-proclaimed “Mr. Wonderful” on the ABC show “Shark Tank” reached an agreement to invest $2.5 million in the single-serve wine company called Zipz. That gave Zipz the $25 million they were seeking.
Making the presentation for Zipz was Andrew McMurray. McMurray is more known in the wine world as Read more…
Some of the protagonists of “Barolo Boys” (L to R): Elio Altare, Domenico Clerico, Chiara Boschis, Marco de Grazia.
In 1983, a chainsaw echoed across the hills of the Barolo region. No humans were harmed in this Barolo massacre: Elio Altare took a chainsaw into the cellar of his family’s winery and cut up the large botti, or large wooden casks, often leaky and fetid, that his father used. He brought in barriques, the small wooden barrels more frequently seen at that time in Burgundy or Bordeaux. His father subsequently disinherited him.
This dramatic rupture with the past is captured in the pages of Barolo and Barbaresco, the essential and timely new book by Kerin O’Keefe. The chainsaw-wielding is also depicted on-screen in the new Italian documentary about the region, Barolo Boys.
The movie, screened for the first time in New York City on Monday, portrays the events of Altare and others as they ushered in a “revolution” to Barolo’s winemaking. A “war” broke out between the “modernists” and the “traditionalists.” This young Turks threw out the old casks, brought in barriques, but also started green harvesting in the vineyard, the process of dropping bunches of grapes to concentrate flavor in the remaining ones. The resulting wines were darker and denser but also flashier, fruitier with more obvious polish and immediate appeal than pure charm of nebbiolo, which is notorious for needing decades in the cellar to coax out.
If wanting to make wines more hygienically was a big push–Altare’s daughter talks in the film about how farm animals and a leaky oil-furnace shared the cellars with the wines–these wines also needed the pull of a commercial outlet. And the film makes clear this was the United States, where critics and consumers lavished praise on the new style and opened their pocketbooks for the wines imported by Marco de Grazia, among others.
While the stylistic clash was heated for a while, it has largely been relegated to the compost pile of history: many of the “modernists” now use larger formats than just barriques, incorporating both new and used barrels, while some of the “traditionalists” do things such as green harvesting, even if they remain steadfast in their use of botti or other larger format vessels for aging. In a discussion after the screening, the protagonists present agreed that the conflict was good for getting increasing interest in the area’s wines.
Elio Altare cast the rift in a different way in comments after the screening, “There are two types of wine: good and bad.” There was an outburst of applause in the room. He continued, “It’s personal taste. I must find the people in the world who drink wine with my taste. I don’t make wine for everybody: I make wine for my taste!” This slightly defiant tone paled in comparison to Joe Bastianich, the film’s narrator, whose last words are “the fight goes on.” The director said he took some liberties with that line and was intended to reprise the “journey” that he invited viewers on in the film’s opening segment.
Kerin O’Keefe provides much more texture in Barolo and Barbaresco. She provides more history, pointing to Angelo Gaja’s pioneering use of barrels in the Barbaresco region, adjacent to Barolo. She offers a more nuanced discussion of the contentious debates between modernists (now, a “ridiculously outdated” term she argues) and traditionalists that incorporates more points of view and more characters than the film. She also notes that not only did media outlets such as Wine Spectator praise the modern style, but they laid waste to some traditionalists, including giving the 1989 Barolo from Bartolo Mascarello a “lowly and insulting 76 points” and the 1989 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Collina Rionda “a miserly and misplaced 78 points.” She also brings up the “taboo” subject of whether, for a time, the modernist wines achieved their dark color through illicit blending of cabernet though her discussion provides no conclusive evidence.
After the opening discussion in the book, O’Keefe provides detailed producer profiles, which are extremely useful not only for the discussion of the house styles and personalities involved, some tasting notes, maps, and also the contact information of the producers. In a trip to Barolo earlier this year, I had an almost impossible time finding some addresses (hint: try searching google.it) let alone email addresses so this will be particularly useful to travelers.
Barolo has gotten a lot more popular in recent years. And, with rising prices in many other fine wine regions, consumers and collectors around the world may increasingly develop a love affair with nebbiolo. So use these tools to get a lay of the land and the debates. See the movie. Read the book. Pull some corks. And start plotting an itinerary for a visit to the region.
Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine, by Kerin O’Keefe
There will also be a free public screening at NYU on Thursday at 6PM. Discussion with Elio Altare and others to follow.
When William Shatner is not negotiating deals for your travel, apparently he’s been drinking wine out of a brown paper bag. Fear not for the former Star Trek Captain–he’s swilling on camera in a newish (I’m the last to know, apparently), short interview show that incorporates a few minutes of celebrity chat followed by a brown bag wine tasting.
The most recent episode features Misha Collins who talks about his charitable work and acting in some supernatural show. When it comes to the tasting portion, The Negotiator pours a white wine in the glass, which Collins grips by the bowl, swirls and sniffs, saying that it has a “waft of amphibian, a primordial sacrifice” like the Aztecs. Must be a Halloween tasting note. But it made me laugh.
The Shat previously tasted with Alton Brown, who developed a word cloud of a tasting note with uncanny precision on his guess, and Dominic, a “marijuana dealer,” among other guests.
It’s all good fun but it is unfortunate that at the end of each tasting, Shatner pulls out a sheet with a score (from his show sommelier) and tasting notes on it and the guests rejoice or sulk in how much they conformed or deviated with the sommelier’s thoughts. But here’s the thing: the sommelier’s tasting notes and scores are simply his opinion. Shatner should embrace his guests’ opinions too, rather than comparing them to some sacred text/score handed down from on high. As wine enthusiasts, we’ve been there, done that. But the page has turned and the diversity of opinion now reigns supreme. For Shatner’s program to connect with millennials, he might want to set up more of contrasting views, rather than a right and wrong about what are simply opinions.
There are facts about the wines but blind tasting is notoriously difficult. Hats off to Alton Brown, though!
I love a good documentary. I just saw “Blackfish,” about the treatment of killer whales at Sea World and thought it was effective in taking an issue that I hadn’t really thought about, making me interested in it, and giving me some basis for forming an opinion about the issue (free the whales!). “The Cove” was similar in presenting the capture and brutal killing of dolphins in Japan; that documentary was gorgeously shot had a dramatic tension as the camera crew inserted themselves into the narrative. In that vein, Morgan Spurlock’s stunt of eating McDonald’s for 30 days in “Super Size Me” was a good way of getting at the broader issue of the health and fast food. More recently, my kids and I enjoyed the “The Short Game,” a Netflix original about competitive golfing among seven and eight year olds. Again, we don’t even golf but it had good arc and did raise the issue of how much is too much competition for such young kids as well as what it takes to succeed at an early age.
This is all a long-winded background to the fact that Decanter reports that a documentary entitled “Sour Grapes” is in the works about the Rudy Kurniawan wine counterfeiting story. They say that the film is being made by a British team with the full cooperation of Laurent Ponsot and will be completed by the end of this year.
While I look forward to seeing the documentary, I’m not sure a documentary is the best treatment for the material. The Rudy saga is terrific and it definitely has the ability to draw the interest of the casual viewer not really into wine. But to me it is a character-driven story that speaks to the larger themes of hubris, duplicity, gullibility and more. In other words, the stuff of Shakespeare more than policy issues, such as dolphin hunting, orca abuse, or nutrition gone off the rails. So I hope that this documentary treatment doesn’t crowd out what I see as the huge possibility of a fictionalized movie version, in the vein of “Catch Me If You Can,” which was based on a true story of check forgery and grossed almost $200 million. However, I’m not exactly sure who is working on such a treatment of the story so I guess we as wine enthusiasts will take what we can get in terms of further exposure to the story and the wine world.
Because having a blockbuster movie about wine might just be the best way for the Rudy saga to end, assuming it gets more people into wine generally and not just into ’45 DRC RC. Look where that got some people!