'Sour Grapes' Chronicles the Biggest Wine Fraud in the United States

By Lesley Jacobs Solmonson, Drinks Editor

The documentary "Sour Grapes" is aptly titled, exploring how a charming con artist defrauded numerous wine collectors with fake bottles. Not only did young Rudy Kurniawan take millions from playboy oenophiles eager to stock up their cellars, but he did so with wines he blended himself from what was essentially swill. While Kurniawan himself remains elusive, the film explores the complexities of the crimes, while exposing the hubris and hauteur of the moneyed crowd as they toss their millions at Kurniawan's bottles.

The world of vintage wine is one to which few of us will ever find ourselves privy. Yet, it's easy to understand how Rudy Kurniawan was seduced by the fancy soirees, indulgent meals, and fine wines. The twentysomething poseur quickly acquired a taste for fine Burgundy and began dropping millions of dollars each month on old bottles. His charm, coupled with his spending habits, bred a sort of trust, which he capitalized on to then sell off his cellar's "treasures". 

These treasures, many of which were sold at auction to a total of $35 million, were the products of Kurniawan's  discerning palate, which enabled him to blend wines to taste and fool multiple connoisseurs. Eventually, small kinks in Kurniawan's schemes were exposed; wines supposedly bottled by Domaine Ponsot Clos Saint-Denis in 1945, 1949, and 1966 were clear frauds as the wine in question wasn't produced until 1982. Indeed, Laurent Ponsot, proprietor of Domaine Ponsot, committed himself to discovering the truth behind the fake bottles. Likewise, billionaire Bill Koch spent millions to track down Kurniawan, who is now serving a ten-year sentence for wine fraud. 

In the end, Kurniawan's joie de vivre, coupled with a stellar palate and a clever sense of trickery, served him well, but it wasn't enough to keep him from serving time.