Sour Grapes is a documentary about Rudy Kurniawan, an infamous wine fraud who swindled billionaire investors out of monumental sums of money in the early aughts. Though focused on an interesting subject in its own right, the reason it’s one of the century’s most prolific intersections of wine and culture is how deftly it capitalized on a larger societal fascination.
For those interested in wine, the movie offers an entertaining peek at a segment of the trade historically sealed up and reserved for a wealthy, privileged few to profile one of its more outrageous public moments.
Other Wine Ones to Watch
It’s impossible to talk about wine and movies without mentioning this one, which forever changed the perception of American Merlot with six words: “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving!”
Family relationships and a series of economic and racial concerns in Memphis drive this film. It nimbly addresses a social dynamic that’s still widely discussed in the wine world.
But, crucially, the movie also transcends this very specific target audience.
“[It’s] a detective story set against the collision of two worlds—the arcane art of French wine production and the reckless excess of noughties New York and LA,” says Jerry Rothwell, who directed the film alongside Reuben Atlas.
To that end, its success is also due to impeccable timing. Released in 2016, Sour Grapes hit screens at a time when Americans were obsessed with stories of true crime. And it has all the elements that make that genre so appealing: fraud, deception and intrigue, as well as a cunning—even likable—perpetrator, a fast pace and a look at an exclusive slice of society.
“It takes us into a world most are unfamiliar with, inhabited by devoted collectors, shady auction houses, critics [and] riotous tasting groups…at a time when extreme inequalities in personal wealth…are being debated more vigorously than ever,” Rothwell says. “The story is one way of thinking through those issues, but through a different lens.
“I think humans always have been [interested] in acts of transgression and what they mean. It’s just that at that moment, it’s taken a very particular form: the streamed serial where we can binge on it.”