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article imageReview: Fraud meets the wild world of wine in 'Sour Grapes' Special

By Michael Thomas     May 3, 2016 in Entertainment
When something gets popular enough, it seems to invite a number of eccentric personalities and its market becomes an elite club. 'Sour Grapes' zooms in on the lucrative wine market and a fraud that shakes it to its core.
There's something about con artists that make books and films about them so compelling. Add in an inflated market like that for old wines (burgundies are the focus here) and you've got an endlessly fun and informative documentary, Sour Grapes.
It doesn't take long for Rudy Kurniawan to become a sensation inside the usually old, male circles of wine collecting. Here is a young man with an exceptionally refined palate for wine and with enough money to be a frequent visitor and bidder at rare wine auctions. It's enough to make him fast friends with people like Hollywood's Jef Levy and Arthur Sarkissian. Kurniawan is cornering the market on burgundies and reaping huge profits by buying them in droves, then re-selling them at higher prices as the wines become scarce.
There's only one problem — much of the wine Karniawan is selling is completely fake. Collectors like Bill Koch have paid literal millions of dollars for wine that isn't what it appears to be. That's when Laurent Ponsot — proprietor of Domaine Ponsot — and FBI agent James Wynne get on the case.
Directors Jerry Rothwell and Reuben Atlas interview a wide range of people who befriended and were affected by Kurniawan's massive fraud, from wine consultants to journalists to the aforementioned Hollywood people. Though Kurniawan declined interviews for the film, Sour Grapes still paints a detailed portrait of him and outlines the financial damage he does to all involved.
Ponsot and Wynne really steal the show as interview subjects. Ponsot takes it upon himself to personally investigate Kurniawan, flying to New York City and Asia in his quest to expose him as a fraud. Wynne details the FBI investigation with a lot of humour, almost making the extensive investigation seem like a lot of fun.
With such fun characters, it almost seems like Sour Grapes is a Hollywood heist film. The obvious questions will arise in viewers' heads: how did Kurniawan get away with this for so long, and why do those directly impacted still somehow have affection for a man that scammed them out of millions? Such is the nature of con men; often charismatic, they make victims feel like somehow they're the ones to blame.
See Sour Grapes at Toronto's Hot Docs International Film Festival on May 3, 5 and 7. Catch all of Digital Journal's coverage of this year's festival here.
More about sour grapes, jerry rothwell, reuben atlas, rudy kurniawan, Wine
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