Sour Grapes – the movie


22 September We are republishing free Tam's review of this new documentary film currently shown in UK cinemas (see below) and presumably elsewhere. It has spawned considerable comment on our members' forum

16 September In February 2007, Jancis published That crazy single-owner Acker sale. It read like a Hollywood movie. From another world. To see actual footage of that day is uncanny. It is just as Jancis described, from the financiers casually waving their bidding paddles over glasses of Coche to the millions of dollars John Kapon was conducting from his podium.

Purple Pagers are no strangers to the story of Rudy Kurniawan (just go to Articles and search on Rudy in the tag search box, or click on the Rudy tag above). Jancis and Alder Yarrow have followed it in detail over the years and it's been discussed in great depth, from very early days and as the drama unfolded, on our forum. With all its twists and turns, and the escalating cacophony of voices entering the fray as events unfurled, it's fascinating – and almost enlightening – to sit back some 12 years after it all began and watch directors Jerry Rothwell and Reuben Atlas calmly and carefully unravel the story in a new film Sour Grapes.

The cast for this fast-paced, 86-minute documentary feature is impressive: journalist Corie Brown, wine collector Don Cornwell, Purple Pager Maureen Downey, Koch's private investigator Brad Goldstein, assistant United States attorney Jason Hernandez, billionaire Bill Koch, Jefery Levy (film/TV director and friend of Rudy), wine writer and novelist  Jay McInerney, defence lawyer Jerry Mooney, sommelier and wine producer Rajat Parr, Laurent Ponsot (set against a misty backdrop of his vineyards in Burgundy), Arthur Sarkissian (another acolyte movie producer) and FBI agent James Wynne. There is footage of John Kapon, complete with City Boy swagger, swigging wine as easily and as quickly as his hammer came down. There is also a shadow running straight through the middle of it all, as the main protagonist, refusing (from his prison cell) to be interviewed for the film, comes to life only in archived footage and in the descriptions and accounts of friends and foes. But Rothwell and Atlas work cleverly with the photographs, videos and interviewees that they have to build an intriguing depiction of the young man who managed to up-end some of the bastions of the wine world.

It doesn't answer all the questions. Who Rudy aka Zhen Wang Huang really was, where his money really came from, and how he came by such a brilliant palate and wine knowledge are yet to be proved. Rumours abound, and Sour Grapes examines some of them. But perhaps most compelling of all was how, both in the film and in the aftermath of the events, the lines between good guy/bad guy and wine connoisseur/elitest hoarder waver and blur under scrutiny. It was illuminating to see Rudy being vociferously supported, even after his conviction, by men who maintained that his generosity, wine knowledge, brilliance and genuineness were (are) absolutely unassailable. Even his detractors – those who met him – have something good to say about him. He had charisma. He seemed to be a genuinely nice guy – and some still believe he is. And while it's hard not to draw breath at the sight of uber-wealthy playboys boasting with playground childishness about getting drunk on breathtakingly rare bottles of wine, or to sneer at how they were so easily duped, blinded by the fake flash of borrowed cash, it's the words of Maureen Downey that perhaps sum up the tension of the dilemma:

'It's amazing the vitriol that I have seen on the internet in response to [this SFGate article]. I am saddened to see the contempt for and generalisations about "wine collectors" and those who have been defrauded. Apparently there are lots of folks who think that fraud has an income cap, ie if you are rich – because you worked your bootie off to earn a respectable living – your being sold fake wines is somehow acceptable. I find it really amazing how the class-warfare issue has so thoroughly permeated society that a victim of a crime somehow "deserves it" because they have succeeded in creating wealth, or have made other sacrifices to enjoy what is their major passion ... It's gross.

'I also find it amazing that all "wine collectors" have been painted with the broad brush of foul behaviour made infamous by John Kapon's email blasts and Jay McInerney's writings. I am thankful that my clients are not obnoxious or suffering from the denial of the scope of the wine fraud as are/have been many in this group. 

'Whatever your politics – these are still victims of a crime.'

Sour Grapes comes out today in London. See the full listing of UK screening times and watch the official trailer.