WINE UNDER CONTROL
Film review essay on Sour Grapes (2016)
(courtesy: Google images of wine glass)
I viewed Sour Grapes, documentary film (2016; directed by Ruben Atlas and Jerry Rothwell) on 11/25/22 online; my very first viewing of the film. It is a true story about a young Asian fraud, Rudy Kurniwan who confiscated vintage wine in the American wine market for hundreds millions of dollars in transactions. The time span covered several years in which there was the 2008 market crash. He was convicted for the crime in 2012. The verdict was 10 years in jail. He was the first person sentenced in such a term for the first time in the judicial system in the US under the crime of confiscating wine.
(Me in 2015. The eyebrow was normal. Somewhat light effects (I guess) blurred the half of it in the photo. I know, it doesn’t look like a woman in a certain age. But such was my case.
In the beginning, the attraction and curiosity for people like me who settle on a bottle of wine under $10 or around is the usual matter, were the lavish lux of the wine world revolving the auction market in its high end. No, not talking about two or three zeros, but four zeros …. no, not for one case, but the cost for one bottle!
Who are buyers of such expensive wine? They collect wine as art or investment or both. They make occasions to drink the high end wine with fellow connoisseurs. Tasting wine is an art. Talking about it is also an art. Palet matters as well as tangues delivering the art of describing wine. It is a special world consisting of wealthy or very wealthy or ultra wealthy people who enjoy such things. They are people in movie productions in Hollywood, arts or equity investors, or (and) rich or very rich people who have means of generating money quasi-automatically from their existing funds.
Rudy Kurniwan entered such a world and became phenomenally famous for his venturous purchase of expensive wine at auction. He also generously offered his collection to fellow lovers of wine on wine amorous occasions with them.
Rudy is such a good guy. Rudy is outgoing and sociable. Rudy is fun and so on and so forth, no one says he was shy, weird or nerdish. Those terms are clearly most negative for a successful con to be, one is convinced.
A movie producer and wine lover in Hollywood, who all through the time even after the verdict made on Rudy says he cannot believe Rudy did the fraud, praises Rudy as truly a good man unlike most of other people around him. Yap, yea, Rudy looks very cheerful, sociable in a no matter with whom kinds of manner, diffusing a ‘life is fun’ aura at any given moment.
There are different people in the film. Lovers of wine, collectors. Auction House people. Inspectors or checkers of the veracity of wine for the market. Criminal investigators. CIA and FBI. And wine maker.
What touched me (quasi-)most was this Burgundy wine maker, Laurent Ponsot, because he was the most seriously concerned about Rudy’s confiscation for the sake of wine for the veracity and the authenticity of the brand, unlike the legal authority who were concerned more about laws than wine itself. For Ponsot, wine is place. Wine is a culture. Wine is a history. Wine is nature. When one drinks wine, the wine becomes an element of oneself.
What interested me (quasi-)most was those wine lovers’ reactions and perceptions about Rudy’s confiscation. Surprised they were, obviously. But, the catch I sensed was those people value highly the wine world of wine connoisseurs like them. Which would mean Rudy’s credibility might have been intact for his excellent accuracy of identifying wines and ability to describe the taste with proper wine vocabularies, if the fraudulent act was put aside.
Spoiler alert is moderately effective from here.
A wealthy art and wine collector, Bill Koch, who lived in his estate in Palm Beach, CA, found the confiscation by looking at the wine catalogue online. It was for sale via a renowned wine auction house, Acker Merrall Condit working closely with Rudy. Koch simply noticed the brand label and production year did not match the actuality. Later an inspector found the wine Koch purchased from Rudy was fake. Well, well, discovered easy was the capsule of centuries-old (supposed to be) vintage wine being glued with Elmer’s by a chemical check. This is the funniest spot in the film according to me.
Laurent Ponsot also discovered the label mismatch online. The work of Rudy’s faking wine seems to be crude. Actually, not. The mechanism worked like this: Rudy collects corks, many corks. He scans labels of vintage wines. He prints copies of the labels. He has many different wine bottles. He has wax too. His kitchen becomes a wine making laboratory. He tastes non vintage wine, one after another. He has an outstanding pallet in excellence, remember? He writes down on empty bottles for ratio portions of the mixture to make fake vintage wine from inexpensive wines.
After the arrest, his defense attorney states it would have been impossible for Rudy to produce such a large quantity of confiscations in that way by him alone in his house when the required time and labor are considered. That was a good point. It must have been a long term planned labor if he had done everything by himself alone. If this is true, it is impressive in a labor intensive way in diligence.
Apart from that, in my remark Rudy’s methodology relying on the sensory faculty is equally impressive because the fake project could not have been done without his high sense of wine as intuitive.
Who is this Rudy Kurniwan who must have had hyper senses for smell and taste for wine? He was found to be a Chinese descent whose family member robbed a bank in Indonesia. Other family member was a white collar criminal. His student visa in the US expired in 2003. Since then he had a confiscated passport, changed his name to Rudy Kurniwan. His debts was huge in the US and he borrowed money to pay debts He increased debts as consequentially successive effects .
What did he say about himself to the exclusive wine community? In his words, he is a trust fund kid, his brother runs a successful business in Indonesia, his father holds the exclusive distribution right of Heineken in China (*note: finally corrected from VW to Heineken on11/27; 3;21pm thanks to the memo I had made while viewing the film but I had put it aside while writing this essay). He had money, he was sociable and likable. Those personality factors of his along with his venture of transacting vintage wine made a splash.
Concretely speaking of it, at auction, he raised the price ceiling of wine. That created naturally a belief in his credentials as an assured money handler. He sold [faked] vintage wine in volume. In this way, he vitalized and revolutionized the wine market in the way. His transactions were fearless. He might be nothing to fear literally for he had nothing to lose. Or, he was deep in his created alter- or new-self.
The later part of the film was on some things of meanings. The highlighted words are picks from the film.
Tant pis: In the market, confiscating of vintage wine is not an extraordinary event, it seems, though the scale differs. That’s tant pis. When happened, tant pis (sorry, that’s not good, but c’est la vie for that can happen to anyone may be one possible translation in English) is said as said.
Code of silence: One takes advantages of others could be a blunt understanding in particular fields. But, one does not say loud for the sake of the market. Or, the code may be on what those lovers of wine seek for. Auction is a trille, has speed and excitements. Then, comes later or at anytime a gathering of the selective. Best food and best wine. Good fellows converse and laugh in joy and merriment. There may also be insiders’ gossips and coated cynicism. The film shows replica moments of the old world’s gentlemen’s club in the West coast version of the new world in the 21st century with no conventional gentlemen. Pseudo-aristocracy of a new kind, it can be said of. The code of silence may also suggest the edgy risk is a part of lure in the wine market and its community.
They want to be fooled: How revealing it is when said! With auction, the cost of wine, and wealthy or very wealthy or ultra wealthy people in front of or behind the scene, the wine market itself can be said as theatrical. Wine collectors must look for such an element strongly and love it. Deception might make a flavor.
Everything is under control: With many regards, he was welcomed because he was as he is. The con persona, Rudy, who even says ‘no worries, he has everything under control’ to his [former fellow] wine lover when all his lies are discovered with evidence by CIA and FBI.
My general remark after I watched Sour Grapes is a reconfirmation about an imposter. The targeted figure can be a real person or a creation of oneself as imaginary alternative. The motivation and goal of impersonalizing others or fictionalizing selves must vary. To anyone’s mind, monetary gains should be the aim must come. No, not only that in my understanding. There may be something more than. The imposter must love to change all realties as a game to play. They are mentally ill in the way the all of the term can indicate fully with no nuance.
An imposter becomes nothing but the imposter. In his or her creation or imitation of a person in hacked ways to make a hacked life as one’s own, the imposter is absorbing the self into an abnormal range to an abnormal degree. The normalcy gives normal people discomforts when they try to live in a faked life of lies on lies. It is not true for the imposter as a categorical genre.
That is why the imposter is comfortable in lies with lies. They can live in lies on lies with no sign of discomfort. They do not falter at anything nor by anything for this reason. Lies can evolve smoothly as if living beings in them. They would be likable talkers or dead serious intellectual whose make-belief ability is far more than excellence. When the crime, confiscation, and fraudulence are discovered with undeniable evidence, the imposter would not accept the fact but continue their lies more than ever with enigmatic (to us) confidence. In short, they are insane in a sense of the term which fully suggests with no ambiguity.
Only when a legal sanction is made, the imposter sees a reality which he or she cannot escape. Yet, the imposter may be able to draw oneself into other sphere of insanity by begging, crying, weeping, confessing, while absorbing the self in a renewal of the insanity. What is true may not matter at all. It is a mental illness of significant gravity.
In the film, a legal expert explains there need the motivation and intent of the wrong act for a prosecution to pursue judicially. In the case of Rudy Kurniwan, the evidence was first found on the wine bottles’ labels and capsules. Around that time, unofficial prosecutors are a combination of the wine market professionals, the investigator with former CIA agents, Rudy’s client who purchased massively his fake vintage wine, and most importantly the wine maker in Burgundy. Each moved by a different passion (more or less, I mean) from others to chase the case. For the decency, authenticity, ethical integrity, and stability of the wine market as confiscation free. For finding out the motivation in the arrogance of this unbelievable hustle in legal terms. For the quiet (or not) indignation of the collector of wine as art and financial recovery. And to me very importantly, for the wine maker’s quest for the truth, that is the author’s forceful intent to retrieve the truth of his making.
My finishing remark is another extension. It would be applicable to any field and any market. If it is, for example, a publishing market and there is a code of silence, there might be different levels of such codes. If this is true, the combination of unofficial prosecutors’ passions indicated above will be valid and function also in this case while the progress depends on how interests collide or coincide from the investigation aiming the judiciary prosecution. But to me most importantly, the author’s unshakable intent to retrieve the truth must weigh on.